Essex delays plans to shut children’s homes

Essex County Council has postponed plans to close seven of its children’s homes, after a 17-year-old boy took the local authority to court.

The teenager applied for a judicial review of the council’s plan to close all but one of its eight homes, arguing that the authority failed to consider his individual needs when making the decision.

Essex County Council has now issued a legally enforceable undertaking that it will not shut any of its children’s homes, as long as those homes are needed by its “settled” looked after children.

The National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS), which acted on behalf of the teenager in the case, said the undertaking represents a “significant rethink on the part of the council”, which had previously advised staff that children living in the homes must move out by 15 December so the closures could proceed.

The judge described the 15 December deadline as “foolish”, given that the council had failed to properly communicate the closure proposals to individual children affected or put in place any proper plans for new placements. The judge ordered the council to pay all of the 17-year-old boy’s legal costs.

A spokeswoman for Essex County Council said the authority is pleased that the judicial review led to a positive agreement.

She said: “The agreement reached today is consistent with the pledge we originally made when undertaking the decision to close seven of our Essex residential children’s homes that we will not seek to move any child or young person from any residential children’s home until a suitable alternative placement has been identified and the move has been agreed through the statutory reviewing process, including taking proper account of the views of the child/young person or their proper representative.”

She added that each individual home would only be closed when no child or young person is resident, but said it was “unfortunate” that the courts had to become involved, since the council had “always made it clear” that it would find new placements according to “the specific needs of the individual child”.

NYAS is currently representing six other children and young people living in Essex children’s homes who have issued similar judicial review proceedings against the council.

These proceedings are due to be heard by the same judge at the High Court during the week commencing 5 December.