A Chesterfield family and friends carer has settled a court challenge against Derbyshire County Council at the door of the court! The settlement means that she will be paid almost £500 per week more than what she has been paid.
The aunt who cannot be named for legal reasons said:
- “In March 2010, my four nieces, K, D, F and L who at that time were aged 3, 5, 8 and 9 were taken into care due to severe neglect following care proceedings commenced by Derbyshire County Council. They were put into two different foster homes due to the fact that, according to the county council, their foster carers couldn’t look after more than three children.
- The children had lived in terrible conditions for years. I had tried in vain to help my sister turn her life around but things had got worse and worse. It got to the point that she would meet me at the gate and not let me enter the house. At this point, I knew things were beyond help from anyone.
- The children were under-fed, filthy, smelly from bed wetting and suffering from head lice. They were living amongst dog and cat faeces and urine. They slept on stained filthy mattresses with little bedding. The children all had challenging behaviour and needed significant support both emotionally and educationally. The children were eventually placed with me by Derbyshire County Council.
- I had to give up work once I took on responsibility for the children. For the first two months we lived off the benefit I was actually being paid for my son I was made to feel like a scrounger every time I asked Derbyshire Social Services for any money. Social services provided me with a people carrier as I only had a 5-seater car. They said that they would pay petrol for me to take the children to and from school. I also had to take them to contact which was 8 miles away. This saved Derbyshire a significant sum of money. If I had not taken them both to school and to contact, the local authority would have had to pay either taxi fares or have arranged for this to be done by a contact worker. At the time, contact was taking place three times per week.
- Every time I went for petrol money from Derbyshire Social Services, they would make some comment about the fact that I was claiming these expenses. The approach of the local authority, quite frankly, amazed me. I had taken responsibility for four children and ensured that they were able to reside together. A specialist report prepared for court recognised that this would be a full time occupation. In one report, it confirms that the children should not be separated as they demonstrate a very close emotional attachment to each other.
- The only way in which the children could remain together was if they were placed with me.
- On the 3rd February 2011, a residence order was made in my favour in relation to the children. As I have stated, the local authority provided me with a vehicle until the final residence order was made. They then took this vehicle off me saying that they could not longer pay for it. I had to borrow the money to buy one.The house was too small for myself and five children. The girls had to share one bedroom which caused a lot of arguments and there was very little scope for them to sleep. In 2013, therefore, I had a conservatory built. I converted the dining room into my son’s bedroom. Two girls sleep in one bedroom and two sleep in the other bedroom. Social services gave me £1,900 towards the costs of this conservatory. The balance of the money, £4,000, was paid by my mother and father as I could not afford to do it myself.
Support from the Local Authority
- The local authority, eventually, began to pay a residence allowance. This was calculated on the basis of £74.28 per week per child. This was very different to what Derbyshire County Council paid for foster carers. For children in the age range of 2 – 4, the sum of £129.50 was paid. For children in the age bracket of 5 – 10, the sum of £143.48 was paid. For children in the age range of 11 – 15 the sum of £163.80 was payable. This is typical of the way in which local authorities vary their payments.
- I was never given the opportunity of being a foster carer for Derbyshire County Council. I would have welcomed the support that could have been provided in respect of these very damaged children. Upon the county council’s recommendation, a residence order was made.
- I had to fight to get residence allowances paid. I accepted what the county council gave me until I read about a grandmother from Swadlincote who had taken the county council to court about the level of her residence allowance. My financial position is that, as I am the full-time carer of the girls, I am not in a position to work. I was, therefore, being paid income based jobseeker’s allowance.
- My life has totally changed – I can’t work; I have no time of my own; the damaged nature of the children leaves me regularly exhausted. If I hadn’t stepped in the children couldn’t have been cared for together. I saved the county council a fortune – but they made me feel like a beggar.
- I contacted Nigel Priestley from Ridley & Hall who is a specialist in kinship care support. Without his hard work, I would never have been able to make the county council change! I couldn’t be more delighted – but there must be many kinship carers with residence orders still being shortchanged by Derbyshire.”
Nigel Priestley commented: “Derbyshire County Council’s fostering policy recognises the importance of keeping sibling groups together. It states:-‘In most circumstances, placing brothers and sisters together means that they can be cared for and grow up as a family group.’ Caring for more than three foster children leads to extra costs for carers and this is recognised through the payment of enhanced allowances for sibling group carers – allowances for four or more children are enhanced by 25%.
“In January 2014 I challenged the county council about the level of the residence allowance payments paid to my client. Derbyshire has a policy that sets the child arrangement order (previously the residence order) allowance at 66% – two thirds – of the fostering allowance. It was impossible to understand how the county council had calculated the weekly allowance paid to my client.
“When Derbyshire would not settle my clients claim amicably we issued judicial review proceedings. These came to a head on 30th March.
“I’m delighted that the county council eventually saw sense. They have now recognised the challenging nature of the children, the sacrifice my client made to care for all four of them together and their failure to pay her properly.
“The county council will now be paying £775 per week after child benefit has been deducted. This is a massive increase – she’d been receiving about £300 per week before. The county council have also made a back payment and are paying my client’s costs.
“She has had to wait 5 years for the county council to accept that they weren’t paying her enough – they were getting the children’s care on the cheap!”
Ridley & Hall are one of England and Wales leading firms supporting ‘family and friends’ carers (kinship carers) and in challenging local authorities.