The Department for Education has withdrawn a controversial document about council duties to vulnerable children and young people, after the childrens' rights charity Article 39 launched an application for judicial review.
The so-called ‘myth busting’ guide advised local authorities that they are legally permitted to reduce and remove support from children in long-term foster care, children who run away or go missing from home or care, children who are remanded to custody and young people who have left care and are still living with their former foster carers.
Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi claimed the document simply clarified council duties, but Article 39 and forty-nine other charities and social work experts warned last September that it contained numerous inaccuracies and risked vulnerable children and care leavers losing vital support.
After correspondence with the Minister failed to elicit any agreement to correct the errors, or even a meeting to discuss our collective concerns, Article 39 instructed lawyers to begin legal proceedings.
Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:
“It’s deeply disappointing that the Children’s Minister didn’t respond to our serious concerns months ago but what matters is that the document has now been withdrawn and the risks to children and young people minimised. We are relieved and delighted that children’s rights have prevailed.
“There is of course the possibility that social workers and local authority managers have already used the guide and we hope that councils will quickly review and rectify any removal or reduction of support.”
As well as deleting it from the children’s social care innovation programme’s website, the Department for Education has committed to notify local authorities and others that the document has been withdrawn. It has also confirmed that any plans to issue a similar document in the future will follow a consultation process that includes Article 39, relevant organisations and children and young people who may be directly affected.
Oliver Studdert, solicitor at Simpson Millar, representing Article 39, said:
“It is absolutely right that this guide has been withdrawn. It is unfortunate that it has taken the issuing of court proceedings to achieve this, but it is reassuring that the Secretary of State has now acknowledged the concerns of Article 39 and other charities and experts concerning the removal of vital statutory safeguards for vulnerable children and care leavers.”