Children and Social Work Bill briefing: corporate parenting principles


This is a briefing for the Children and Social Work Bill, at Committee Stage in the House of Lords on corporate parenting principles and access to legal advice and representation. See also our briefing on migrant care leavers.

Clause 1: Corporate parenting principles for English local authorities

Page 1, line 18, after clause (1)(1)(d), insert –

(e)  to promote access to legal advice and representation for children and young people, including independent advice and representation where appropriate;

Purpose

This clause would amend Part 1 of the Children and Social Work Bill to include a duty to promote access to legal advice and representation for children in care where such advice and representation is required for children to fully exercise their rights. For example, children may need legal advice with regard to:

  • accessing appropriate education within their area;
  • having a voice in family law proceedings which concern arrangements for their care;
  • regularising their immigration status; or
  • claiming compensation where a child is a victim of crime, including human trafficking.

In order to safeguard and promote the welfare and future life chances of children, it is imperative that outstanding legal issues are identified and resolved. Local authorities, in their role as corporate parents, have a particular obligation to promote meaningful access to legal services for the children in their care. Recent evidence presented to the Refugee Children’s Consortium1See for example the Children’s Society “Cut Off from Justice: the impact of excluding separated migrant children from legal aid”, June 2015 suggests that is not enough for access to legal advice to be included in a child’s care plan; there should instead be an active duty to promote this access.

Currently, the guidance on unaccompanied asylum seeking children sets out that social workers should understand how to access specialist immigration legal advice.2Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children, statutory guidance for local authorities on the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children, July 2014 However, in our experience, this advice is often sought too late for children. Further, it is important that children in local authority care are able to access legal advice on other areas of law.

Children can require a broad spectrum of legal intervention to ensure that their best interests are represented, for example: to stay in education or have access to support for their special educational needs, or to gain compensation from a perpetrator. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding Observations on the UK Government’s fifth periodic report, it was noted that some children in care do not feel listened to, and unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children may not receive independent legal advice. We are particularly concerned that children are missing out on opportunities to resolve their immigration status before they turn 18 because of the limited provision of legal advice and difficulties in finding independent and reliable advice providers. A child without a way to regularise their immigration status in local authority care becomes a young person without support at 18.

Funding

The Government committed to a review of legal aid spending during the passage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The UN Committee have called upon the UK to assess the impact and to expedite the review of legal aid reforms and their impact on access to justice for children.3Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, UNCRC, 3 June 2016, p7

Figures gathered by the Children’s Society showed that nearly all unaccompanied children’s immigration cases would be out of scope for legal aid, with 2490 of 2700 applications being out of scope.4Cut Off From Justice, Children’s Society, June 2015. According to the Government’s own estimates during the passage of the LASPO Bill, ensuring that all child claimants under 18 have access to civil legal aid would cost only £5-6 million (this would not include children affected by their parents’ ineligibility for legal aid).5Revised estimate provided by the Ministry of Justice on 11 April 2012 following the government’s concessions in the Lords.

Case studies

B was a young man who, aged 21, had become a care-leaver from a London local authority. His leave to remain had expired while he was in their care and the local authority did not provide appropriate support or advice. The local authority refused to assist the young man to regularise his status. B had been referred to the Children’s Society which through advocacy work was able to secure a private immigration solicitor, however the local authority refused to assist the young man further despite their previous failure to secure his status.

 

Y was accommodated by the local authority as a child, but had been a victim of sexual exploitation around the UK. Y knew her traffickers and had reported them to the police. She wanted funding to assist her in going to college. However, although she wanted compensation, she felt unable to continue to co-operate with the police investigation and so her criminal injuries claim could not progress. Y would have been able to seek compensation through the civil courts, but her social worker did not inform her of this option. Y believed that the only way she could access compensation was through the civil fund. It was not until she had an NGO advocate that someone was able to give her advice about a civil claim.

References   [ + ]

1. See for example the Children’s Society “Cut Off from Justice: the impact of excluding separated migrant children from legal aid”, June 2015
2. Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children, statutory guidance for local authorities on the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children, July 2014
3. Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, UNCRC, 3 June 2016, p7
4. Cut Off From Justice, Children’s Society, June 2015.
5. Revised estimate provided by the Ministry of Justice on 11 April 2012 following the government’s concessions in the Lords.