(Queen's Bench Division (Administrative Court); Sir George Newman (sitting as deputy judge); 6 March 2009)
A woman's refuge sought to refer a vulnerable 17 year old as a possible child in need. The young person had fled from domestic violence and had been in the adult refuge for 4 months; the refuge was hoping to move her to a hostel within a few days. The local authority dealt with the referral summarily and without making a proper enquiry. The local authority concentrated on those facts that might relieve it of responsibility for the young person, rather than considering the issues to which the facts gave rise; in particular there was no inquiry into the young person's alleged vulnerability. In fact the young person did not move to a hostel as she was anxious not to make an interim move; instead she made a homelessness application. In response to the threat of legal action the local authority undertook a more formal assessment of the young person, but that assessment also rejected the young person as a child in need, on the basis that she was 'safe' in the refuge and could wait until the housing authority responded to her application, even though, some months after receiving the application, the housing authority had not only failed to make a decision, but had also failed even to acknowledge the application. The local authority did not consider the young person's difficult background, her early involvement with mental health services, the breakdown of her relationship with the mother, or her experience of violence. It was noted in the assessment that in any event the core assessment would not be completed before the young person turned 18 and became ineligible for child services. At no stage had anyone from either social services or housing determined how suitable the accommodation available in the refuge was for the young person.
The local authority must take action to ensure that: child in need assessments were not carried out in a summary manner; housing did not simply fail to respond to applications in respect of children; steps were taken to ensure that the imminence of a child attaining 18 was not a basis for failing to take action; and there was due and proper contact between the housing authority and social services.