Councils face legal action on ‘lack of local accommodation for children in care’

Councils are facing legal challenges over accusations they are failing to provide enough local accommodation for children in their care.

Concerns have been raised that children taken into care are routinely being housed miles away from their schools, families and communities.

While children can be moved out of area for legitimate reasons, it can also place them at greater risk of criminal exploitation and targeting by county lines drug gangs, according to a report by the Children’s Commissioner.

The Good Law Project says it has launched legal challenges against West Sussex County Council and Surrey County Council.

Gemma Abbott (pictured), legal director of the Good Law Project, said: “Children are taken into care to protect them, but the impact of being ripped away from school, friends and support networks is causing further harm.

“Councils should be making sure that the children in their care can stay in their local area if that is in their best interests.

“We are asking them to spend more efficiently in the long-run, by developing more in-house accommodation or investing in local foster care.

“At the end of the day, councils can, and must, do better.”

Councils have a legal obligation to ensure that children in their care can stay in their local area if that is in their best interests.

However, half of children in foster care in Surrey are placed out of area, as are 62% of children in residential care, the Good Law Project says.

A Surrey County Council spokesperson said: “We always strive, as far as reasonably possible, to place children in accommodation within Surrey and, more importantly, in a family or setting that is appropriate for their safety and wellbeing.

“We are working to provide and source local provision that delivers the best possible outcomes for Surrey’s children and families.”

Almost one in four (24%) of children in West Sussex County Council’s care are sent out of area, and 15% are placed more than 20 miles from their home, the Good Law Project says.

A spokesperson for West Sussex County Council said: “This matter is now the subject of litigation.

“West Sussex County Council confirms that it is one of several authorities against whom the GLP has issued proceedings which it will contest.

“We have no further comment to make at this time.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) The Good Law Project.