Deciding What Is Most Appropriate

December 15th, 2015 by James Goudie KC

Section 22C(5) of the Children Act 1989 requires a local authority to place a child in the placement which, in the authority’s opinion, is “the most appropriate placement available”. Must the authority consider all placements available at the relevant time and search for a placement with every potential provider?  No, ruled William Davis J in R (Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers v Bristol City Council and Others [2015] EWHC 3615 (Admin).  He held (paragraph 44) that: “No duty is imposed to ensure that there are independent providers as well as in-house providers”, and (paragraph 45) that: “No specific requirements are made of a local authority in relation to the “most appropriate placement”.”

The Judge concluded (paragraph 59) that the statutory duty did not require a local authority to contact all providers of potentially appropriate placements at the same time for every “looked after” child, for reasons including that:-

– The duty is not a procedural duty. It is an outcome duty. How a local authority goes about fulfilling that duty is a matter of policy within the discretion of the local authority subject to any express regulatory provisions.

– The word “appropriate” of itself implies an exercise of judgment by a local authority. Moreover, the judgment is one subject to the “opinion” of the local authority.

– The statutory provisions require a local authority to make decisions in relation to “looked after” children in its care in such a way as to safeguard and promote their welfare. They do not set out precisely how a local authority should make such decisions.

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