This is unfortunately something that housing lawyers hear a lot from parents who have asked for assistance from the Children's Services Department (aka Social Services) when they have been refused assistance by a Housing Department. A variation of this problem is the social worker advising that they can house the children on their own but not their parents.
Families with children often have to ask social workers for help when they face homelessness. It is easy to fall through the safety net that is supposed to be provided by the Housing Department for homeless persons. A Housing Department will usually refuse to assist a homeless applicant for anything more than a short time where they have been found to be intentionally homeless or if they have refused what is considered to have been an offer of suitable accommodation. Then there are whole swathes of people who are excluded from what is now known as mainstream housing due to their immigration status.
Most people react with understandable horror to the suggestion that the only help available to them in what is already a crisis of facing street homeless is to have their children taken into care. This is especially true when the children are babies. The parents take some persuading that the advice the social worker has given them is wrong and are very reluctant to return to the Children's Services Department. They find it hard to believe that a social worker would tell them something so unpleasant if it was not true. I have been dealing with parents who have received this advice from staff in many different local authorities for about 15 years now. None of them have had their children housed on their own or taken into care because a parent is homeless. For those who would like to have details available to reassure such people here are some of the reasons why this advice is wrong.
- Section 17(3) of the Children Act 1989 states that any service provided by the authority in the exercise of functions conferred on them by this section may be provided for a particular child in need or for any member of his family, if it is provided with a view to safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare. This means that the suggestion that all that can be done is to house the children on their own is absolutely incorrect.
- Section 17(1) (b) provides that far as it is consistent with their duty to safeguard and promote the wellbeing being of children they have a general duty to promote the upbringing of such children by their families. This means that the social workers should be taking steps to ensure that the children are housed together with their family unless they consider that it would not be in the best interests of the child to be housed with them. The fact that the parent has been unable to prevent them from facing homeless should not come close on its own to justifying the suggestion that it would not be in the interests of a child to be housed with that parent.
- The Statutory Guidance Working Together To Safeguard Children provides (at page 19) that good assessments by social workers should include consideration of the needs of children within their family and should involve the family. This is not compatible with the idea that the only assistance that can be provided at the end of the assessment process is to separate children from their families.
If anyone can point out any other reasons please add a comment. I am sure there are more.
Where families are given this advice a letter of complaint and/or a letter in accordance with the pre action protocol for Judicial Review proceedings should be sent to the council concerned asking them to confirm that they have provided this incorrect advice or to arrange a proper assessment. In my experience this leads to a quick response from a Children's Services Department manager or the Legal Department stating that the family must have misunderstood what was said and inviting the family to return to the office for a proper assessment.