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Judge backs claim by grandmother for financial support from council

A grandmother has won a High Court battle with a council over the financial support she claimed she should have received to care for her 11-year-old granddaughter.

In KS v The City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council [2014] EWHC 11 the grandmother applied for judicial review of a decision by Bradford that KS, the granddaughter, was not a ‘looked after child’ pursuant to s. 20 and s. 22 of the Children Act 1989.

KS was brought up with her siblings by her parents until she was two. However, there were difficulties in the family. The mother misused alcohol, there were incidents of domestic violence and one of the siblings complained of being hit by the father. There was also neglect.

The council had had regular involvement with the family from 1999. In October 2004 social workers had serious concerns about the care being provided. At a meeting at the parents’ home, it was accepted that the children needed to be elsewhere and it was suggested that this should be with the grandparents.

On 28 October the situation faced by the maternal grandmother was that if she did not give KS a home she would be removed to stranger foster care.

The grandmother took care of her granddaughter, but the council did not subsequently provide financial support. Several years later she brought a claim.

His Honour Judge Clive Heaton QC ruled that the council never addressed its mind to the status of the placement. This was for the following reasons:

  • There was no record of any internal discussion on the part of the council to what the status of this placement was. “The answer to that question was an important one whatever the basis upon which KS was living with [the grandmother], it would set the boundaries of the defendant's obligations and responsibilities to KS and her carers.”
  • There was no record of such a discussion more generally with other professionals, for example in Child Protection Conference, Child Protection Review or Core Group meetings. “Those same boundaries would have been important to other professionals involved with the family
.”
  • There was no record of any discussion with the grandmother. “Again such a discussion would have been crucial so that she would know what she was taking on, and what help if any she could expect.”

The judge rejected the council’s argument that the absence of such discussion was explained by it being clear to all that this was a private arrangement.

“To seek to characterise the removal as a private arrangement between the parents and grandparents is simply not in accordance with the picture painted by the defendant’s own documents,” he added. “I am left in no doubt having considered the defendant’s records that it was the defendant, not the parents, who brokered the move for KS out of the parents’ home that day.”

HHJ Clive Heaton QC said he preferred the argument of the claimant that what was happening was that a decision had been made that the children should be removed with the consent of the parents and the council was appropriately looking for a suitable family member to place with before looking to stranger foster carers.

Turning to the two-stage analysis set out by Black J in the case of SA, the judge concluded:

  1. This was not a case where, the council being on the verge of acting, the family came to an arrangement for the care of the children including KS. “Rather this is a case where the defendant had determined to act, and at that point [the grandmother] was drawn into the discussions as to what should happen in consequence.”
  2. It was clear that as at 28 October 2004 KS was a child in need who required accommodation as a result of one of the prescribed circumstances. Thus a duty to provide accommodation arose under s. 20 Children Act 1989.
  3. The council’s actions to comply with that duty were best characterised as the defendant placing KS with the grandmother under s. 23(2) Children Act 1989 rather than making an arrangement to enable the child to live with a relative under s. 23(6).

The judge ordered Bradford to pay a fostering allowance to the grandmother (amounting to £177.20 a week). The council was also ordered to pay a lump sum of almost £2,000 – equivalent to the appropriate weekly allowance from a date three months before the date of the application – and legal costs.

Tracey Ling of law firm Ridley & Hall, which acted for the grandmother, said: “We were confident that placing the child with her grandma stopped her being taken into foster care…..

"It should have been sorted out amicably but Bradford used Council Tax payers money to fight the case all the way. The decision of the judge was that this was a 'Looked After' child and Bradford’s argument justifying its refusal to pay was rejected.”

Julie Jenkins, Bradford Council's Assistant Director Children's Specialist Services, said: "We cannot comment on individual cases. However, the judge in this case was not critical of our Children's Social Care Services and we are pleased that the settlement that we offered in this case was agreed." 

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