A senior judge has ordered Merton Council to change its “unlawful” policy of underpaying the relatives of vulnerable children who are not given the same support as foster parents.
The High Court ruled on July 25 the council had short-changed a former civil servant who gave up her job to care for her grandchild, after her son and the child’s father, a convicted murderer, had made threats against his own family.
Despite Merton’s social services team approaching her to become the four-year-old child’s special guardian, she was refused the same level of allowance that it would pay to a foster carer.
The child suffers from hyperactivity and both parents are in prison after his father was given a 30-year prison sentence for murder and his mother began a 10-year sentence for drug trafficking.
The special guardian, given the pseudonym “G” to protect the identity of the child (called “C”), also complained the council was underpaying her by nearly £250 a month for nearly a year, forcing her to sell her car.
The council admitted it had made a mistake and had repaid the amount with interest, but G complained she was still being paid one-third less than foster parents get for additional costs of bringing up a child.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart, said: “She says she was told at that time that she would receive an allowance to care for C in line with foster care allowances within the borough and that, in effect, she was C’s last chance because otherwise he would probably be offered for adoption.
“However, the claimant was aware that, C being a young Afro-Caribbean boy, it was quite likely that he would not be adopted and would therefore remain in permanent foster care.”
C’s solicitor, Miss Fiona Scolding, argued Merton was applying a means test that was so heavily slanted against the special guardian that it would deter others from volunteering for the role.
However, Miss Mai Ling Savage, representing Merton, said the costs of looking after a child in foster care were 50 per cent higher than looking after a birth child, and that these additional costs did not apply to a child cared for by a special guardian.
When asked, Merton Council refused to comment on how many special guardians there are in the borough that would be affected by the court’s ruling.
The council has now been ordered to create a new special guardianship policy by December 1.
The council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Maxi Martin said: “We are reflecting on this judgement which is detailed and needs careful consideration. In light of the findings we are carrying out our regular review earlier than previously scheduled.”
It revealed children in Merton wait an average of nearly three years to be adopted.
Statistics, taken between 2009 and 2011, showed 982 days was the average time for a child to be put into care and adopted – 15 months longer than in Kingston-upon-Thames.