When members of an extended family put themselves forward to care for children, the Local Authority will almost always agree to carry out a ‘viability’ assessment of them. This is usually a fairly quick piece of work, based on one or two visits by a social worker, to see whether a full assessment should be carried out or not.
Sometimes, a single visit is enough to say that family or friends could not care for the child/ren in question – because they have criminal convictions which mean they are a risk, or very poor health or are unrealistic about the challenges of caring for a child.
However, the quality of these viability assessments can vary enormously and sometimes we find that people have been ruled out unfairly – their house may be too small, but did anyone ask if they were prepared to move? They may not have much parenting experience, but could the Local Authority offer them support such as a parenting course? They may not understand why someone is a risk, but has anyone really sat down and explained this fully?
Shortly before Christmas, I met with some family members who had been ruled out by the Local Authority (which meant that the plan for the children was for them to be adopted).
I was sent the viability assessment on Friday afternoon, read it over the weekend and met with the family members on Monday morning. We worked hard together to go through the assessment and I prepared a detailed statement to challenge it alongside as well as an application to the Court for permission to instruct an independent social worker to assess my clients. Because there was a Court deadline to file the application, we made sure that this was complied with and the application was issued the following day! My clients were not eligible for legal aid so I worked on a fixed fee basis, meaning they knew exactly what their legal costs would be.
When the application came before the Court, they were given permission to instruct an independent social worker to assess them, paid for by the Local Authority and parties with legal aid.
A negative viability assessment is not always the end of the road. If you have been negatively assessed by the Local Authority and believe their conclusions are wrong, you should seek your own legal advice.