When we deal with care cases, one of the most constant complaints we encounter on behalf of parents is contact with their children.
Naturally, it revolves around the children being placed away from their parents and any other significant people in their life such as friends etc.
It is very difficult for the Local Authority to keep children within the distances of the home. The Local Authority foster carers as a resource are precious, and nine times out of ten, because of the nature of the removal, it has to be done swiftly and therefore they have to find a placement to protect the child rather than to have regard to other factors such as proximity to home.
OFSTED have recently completed a report confirming this. OFSTED announced that at least 12 per cent of children in residential care are housed more than 20 miles from their home community and in 2013, more than 1 in 10 looked after children who lived outside of their home local authority area.
One of the big problems that is faced in an area such as Devon due to its geographic, is that children can sometimes be placed away from their families. With public transport routes not being as good as they may be in those rural areas, there are difficulties in how contact can take place.
The Local Authority has a duty to promote contact with families and “significant others” and also has a statutory duty to ensure that there is sufficient accommodation to meet the needs of looked after children in the community. This duty is supported by guidance that makes it clear that children should live in the Local Authority area with access to local services and close to their family and friends when it is safe to do so.
However, the Local Authority resources are sometimes such that they cannot guarantee this can happen. It is very difficult for them and perhaps harmful for the children to consider moving children from a placement they have been in for some time simply to bring them “closer to home”.
The OFSTED report raises issues that children placed out of area are less likely to receive effective education and health support than if they were living close by to their home area.
Sometimes it is in the child’s best interests to live away from their parents to keep them safe from harm or from danger of influences closer to home.
During care proceedings, however, or wherever social services are involved in accommodating children, it is really important that the focus is placed upon trying to keep the child as close to the family and friends as can be reasonably achieved.
Where this cannot be reasonably achieved, consideration should be given to how contact can work and what resources the Local Authority, either financial or otherwise, will put in place to ensure that the child’s needs are met to maintain its contact links with its family and friends (where safe to do so) and to ensure that the child’s education and health needs do not suffer.
As family law solicitors in Exeter it is important for us to look at these issues in a holistic way.
At the heart of any children’s case must be the child and what is best for that child. Although resources do have a part to play, it is clear that focusing on and promoting of those needs sometimes gets lost in the red-tape and bureaucracy and the limited resources that Local Authorities have.