I have been dealing with several cases recently in which local authority policies have created difficulties. In one case there was a local authority policy that where any child under 10 required permanent placement outside the family an adoptive placement should be sought. I have stumbled on this policy in other areas where slightly different ages - 9 being the most common. The policy was stated quite openly - in other words without even a token gesture in the direction of - there is a general rule of thumb but in an appropriate and unusual case we might take a different option. In one case it meant that the only way a foster carer could keep the youngest child of the sibling group of 3 she had successfully cared for for 3 years was to apply for special guardianship. This meant that she was immediately £600 a month worse off - there also being a policy that no remuneration element would be paid to a former foster carer even though it may be paid for up to 2 years. It also resulted in there being two children in her household the subject of care orders and one sibling only for whom she was the special guardian. It seems to me that such a policy is unlawful. Had I been involved earlier, I might have been minded to suggest a judicial review but I suspect my client would not have qualified for public funding and would not have wanted to take the local authority to court for fear of jeopardising her good working relationship with them and their support for her application. Nor did she want the mother to think that her offer to care for the child permanently was motivated by money. It is a particularly inapt policy where sibling groups are concerned and I cannot see that it can be justified as child centred. In another sibling group case, adoption was favoured by the local authority and evidence was given to the effect that it was a breach of the children's human rights and discriminatory not to seek an adoptive placement. This case involved children who on the local authority's own evidence would be extremely difficult to place given their ages and special needs & the likely need for face to face contact. Adopters for them would not only have to be approved for 3 children with special needs it was obvious they would also have to be wealthy and extremely well organised and able to meet the children's needs without any back up from the local authority. In that case the Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist had reported to the effect that the primary need of all 3 children was to be placed together and to be able to have face to face contact. In his oral evidence he referred to research which showed that with sibling groups of a particular age there was a wafer of difference between the placement success rates.
Another policy I ran into was in relation to contact between the birth family & the child subject of a special guardianship order and I have met it before in relation to contact to children in long-term foster care. Supervised contact is only supported twice a year. Again, I cannot see how this one size can possibly fit all sizes. In the same case mentioned above the Independent Reviewing Officer clearly recommended contact once a month to all 3 children but still the local authority were only able to offer to supervise this twice a year and it was fortunate that there was a care order in place for the other 2 children so that the contact which was thought to be in the children's interests could take place.
And finally - an old favourite - we cannot support a care order with children remaining at home. This one is at least usually said not to be an inflexible policy and I can much more easily understand the professional discomfort with it. If concerns are so serious that a care order is justified then it is difficult to see how the local authority can adequately protect the children without removing them. Obvious exceptions might arise - where family members need the ongoing support of the local authority to manage contact arrangements (particularly where the other policy of supporting contact only twice a year is also operating!).
Are there any more policies which drive family practitioners round the bend?
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