Local Authority Duties to Children in Need
A LA is under an obligation to provide services for children in need, their families and other;
General Duty: S17(1) CA 1989 - the general duty of LA to provide support services for children and families. General duty is to:
- a) safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and
- b) as far as is consistent within that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families.
The ethos of the act if preventative and thus the LA duty operates BEFORE the child is at risk.
S17 CA 1989 - requires the LA to provide a range of services appropriate to that child's needs - and the duty applies to children within their area.
S17(10) - What is a child in need?
s17(10) defines what is meant by a child in need. This occurs in three situations;
- a) he is unlikely to achieve, or have opportunity of achieving and maintaining a reasonable standard of health or development without the provisions of services by the local authority.
- b) his health or development is likely to be impaired or further impaired without such services; or
- c) he is disabled.
S17(11) - Health and Development
Health = physical or mental health
Development = Physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural.
Disabled = Blind, deaf, dumb, mental disorder, or substantially and permanently handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity.
The local authority must keep a register of all disabled children in its area and has a specific duty to provide services that will enable such children to live as normal life as possible.
Schedule 2 to Children Act 1989
This sets out the specific services that a LA must or may provide to children in need.
The obligatory services are;
- Advice, guidance and counselling
- Occupational, social, cultural or recreational activities
- Home help
- Facilities for, or assistance with, travelling to and from home for the purpose of taking advantage of any other services provided
- Assistance to enable a child and his family to have a holiday
- Maintenance of the family home designed to enable a child to live there or maintain contact.
In addition the LA may provide:
- Accommodation for the family;
- (in exceptional circumstances) cash.
S18(1) - LA MUST provide day care for children under 5 who are in need. LA may provide such care for children not in need. Day care must be appropriate.
S18(5) - The same duties and powers are imposed on LA in relation to school children - in particular provision for children in need during the holidays/outside school hours.
Accommodation for Children
Children are accommodated by the LA, if they are provided with accommodation for a period in excess of 24 hours.
S20 - a) When must the LA accommodate a child?
- i) when there is no person with parental responsibility for him;
- ii) him being lost or abandoned; or
- iii) the person caring for him being temporarily or permanently prevented from providing him with suitable accommodation or care,
b) Objections to Action
S20(7) - LA cannot provide accommodation for a child if any person with PR objects. Although he/she must be willing and able to provide or arrange alternative accommodation for the child.
S20(8) - anyone with PR may remove a child from LA accommodation at any time. This does not apply where there is a residency order in place and the person who has the RO has agreed that the child is to be looked after by the LA.
Provisions are all voluntary - the LA would need a care order to keep the child.
Coventry City Council v CB, CA and CH 
- The case concerned the removal of a new born baby immediately after birth. The court was critical of how the LA sought mother's consent to s20 accommodation in what was described as a "highly charged and traumatic situation".
The court held that the LA's actions and the removal of the child under s20 amounted to a breach of the ECHR Article 8 rights of mother and child - and both recieved damages.
This case is important because it acknowledged and accepted that any attempt to restict the use of S20 runs the risk of both undermining the partnership element of Part III and of encroaching on a parent's right to exercise PR in any way they see fit to promote the welfare of a child.
However, importantly the court stressed that "section 20... must not be compulsion in disguise... and in order for consent to be lawful the parent must have the requisite capacity... and that consent is properly informed". - The parent must have sufficient understanding of what is proposed in order to consent.
R (G) v Barnet London Borough Council 
- The case confirmed a family, temporarily homeless, and attempting to use S17 to secure rehousing through the children being "in need". An individual child can not seek to compel a LA to provide services by relying on s17.
House of Lords confirmed that S17 does not create a right to particular services for a particular child but rather describes a duty that the LA owes to children in need.
Local Authority Duties when Caring for Children
S22(1) - general duty applies to all children looked after by the LA, whether in voluntary care or under a (compulsory) care order.
S22(2) - arises where the LA has provided accommodation for a continous period of more than 24 hours.
Under the general duty the LA is required to:
- i) Safeguard and promote the child's welfare and
- ii) Make such use of services available for children cared for by their parents as seems reasonable in the case.
S22(3A) - states that i) includes the child's educational achievement.
It should be noted that the Act does NOT make the child's welfare the first consideration. The LA must balance a variety of factors, the welfare of the child having no greater importance than any other.
Duty of Consultation - S22(4) and S22(5)
A two stage process is involved:
S22(4) - the LA must widely consult before making any decision in relation to a chid looked after by them. The section requires the LA to ascertain the wishes of the child, his parents, anyone with PR and any other person whose wishes may be relevant, as far as it is reasonably practicable.
S22(5) - give due consideration to the wishes of the child and any other person listed above, and to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.
- What is meant by "due consideration" is unclear, but if it was clear that a factor had been ignored then an aggrieved individual can complain. The problem will be one of evidence that the LA has not considered a particular factor.
In addition, there is no weighting of the factors on the list and it appears to be within LA discretion as to whether they give one factor more weight than another.
Provisions of Accommodation - S23(1) and S23(3)
S23(1) - The LA is obliged to provide a child in its care with accommodation and continues by giving a list of the type of accommodation which may be provided - for example, placing a child with a family or relative or placing him in a community home or children's home.
S23(3) - The Act does not require that the LA should prefer one type of accommodation over another but where a child is placed with an individual, that person is to be treated as a local authority foster parent.