Tell me if either of these scenarios sounds familiar to you?
The first one is you get a phone call from your daughter or son informing you that they need help. Family Services has got involved with their children and it is saying that if arrangements cannot be made for the children to go and live somewhere else then it will have no choice but to issue court proceedings and have the children removed into care. You cannot possibly let that happen, so you agree with your daughter/son that the children will come and live with you. You make arrangements between you and you then tell Family Services that is the plan. The second scenario starts the same as the first. You get the phone call, Family Services has become involved, and the children cannot stay living at home where they are. In this scenario, however the social worker approaches you and asks you whether you can care for the children. You say yes, you are assessed, and the children come to live with you.
Is the beginning of those two scenarios the same? Yes. Is the ending? Kind of. Well in both scenarios you end up looking after your grandchildren so what is the difference?
The difference could be between approximately £123 – £179 per week per child extra in your pocket. But why is it different you ask? Well in scenario one the Local Authority may argue that it was a family arrangement and therefore it has no duty to provide either financial or practical support to that placement. In the second scenario, the Local Authority was more instrumental in those arrangements being made and therefore has a duty towards that placement.
Actually, that is over simplifying things because it is not as clean cut as that. There are a number of other factors that need to be taken into consideration to see whether you are eligible for any support from the Local Authority. Understandably, when you get that phone call the last thing on your mind is finances. But a lot of the time having the right support in place, whether it be financial, practical or emotional, makes the difference between a family placement being successful and it breaking down.
I will give you two examples of cases where I have acted for family members.
The first was in relation to a great maternal aunt who took on the care of her newborn great granddaughter. Family Services approached her to care for the child, assessed her, played a massive part in what contact the child should have with her parents and even paid for the venue and the costs of travelling to and from that contact. Pretty involved right? But yet for the first two years of the placement this great maternal aunt was not receiving any financial support and was gradually left on her own to care for this child. This story ends well however as King Street Solicitors not only assisted her with obtaining a special guardianship order but we were also able to secure her a proper support package to assist her in caring for her great granddaughter. The best bit? The client was granted over £11,000 in back payments for fostering allowance that she had been entitled to but never received.
The second case in very different from the first. This time it was an aunt who had been negatively assessed by the Local Authority to care for her niece who was the subject of care proceedings. The Local Authority’s care plan for the child was adoption. King Street Solicitors managed to make a successful application for an independent social work assessment but this also reached a negative conclusion. The matter proceeded to a contested final hearing where we managed to overturn the independent social worker’s evidence which resulted in the Local Authority changing its care plan from adoption of this child to placement with our client (subject to some conditions being put in place). Again, another successful outcome for a family.
If you take three points from reading this then let them be these – 1. Do not be scared to challenge the Local Authority if you do not feel comfortable with what you have been told, 2. Asking for support, whether it is financial or practical, does not mean that you are not capable of looking after the children. On the contrary, having the right support in place will inevitably mean that the placement is more likely to be a successful one, 3. If you are in a situation where you are either about to take on a family child or you already have done, and you are still not sure whether you are eligible for any type of support please pick up the phone and speak to one of our childcare specialists who will be more than happy to help you.
Abby Duffy is based at our Pontefract office and you can call her on 01977 705762. We also offer appointments at our Wakefield office if that is more convenient to you and you can call to make an appointment on 01924 332395.