(Queen's Bench Division, Administrative Court; HHJ Farmer QC; 30 July 2009)
The unaccompanied asylum-seeking child was in the authority's care for 13 weeks, after which she moved, entirely of her own volition, to live with family known to her in the area of another authority. Thereafter there was a dispute as to which authority was responsible for supporting the child.
The age assessment produced by the first authority had failed to satisfy the duty to provide either a brief initial assessment or core assessment, under Children Act 1989, s 20; a full core assessment was a prerequisite for properly assessing the weight to be given to a child's wishes and the first authority had not been entitled to rely on the child's expressed wishes as decisive in the absence of a proper and rigorous assessment. The duty under s 20 endured until such an assessment had taken place, and could even survive such an assessment. Further, a local authority could not take advantage of a child's impulsive and unwise acts to absolve themselves of the s 20 duty. In this case, a prerequisite for bringing the s 20 duty to an end had been to ensure that every attempt had been made to resolve difficulties as to resourcing between the local authorities. An interim plan for provision of services should be made before a final decision or position was taken up. Both the first and the second authority had owed a concurrent duty to the child. This double duty protected the child from the consequences of arbitrary and unilateral action on the part of local authorities. The second authority should not have refused to offer support to the child, and should not have attempted to pass responsibility for her back to the first authority. It was not lawful to defer the performance of the duty of good parenting under the 1989 Act to the resolution of what was essentially a resource-led dispute.