04 Dec Secretary of State for Department for Education agrees to carry out full review of eligibility criteria for Adoption Support Fund following threat of judicial review.
We recently acted for a vulnerable young adult who had been assessed by his local authority as having adoption support needs and required psycho-therapy as a result.
His local authority made an application to the Adoption Support Fund (“ASF”), a scheme run by the Department for Education (“DfE”) set up to “provide families with the therapeutic support needed to help their children recover from the abuse and neglect they may have suffered before they entered care”.
Although our client’s application to the ASF for the previous financial year had been approved, the most recent application was denied on the basis that he was not eligible as he had returned to care following an adoption placement breakdown and had never returned to that placement. We understand that the local authority received a number of refusals to similar applications citing this same reasoning.
The current publicly available criteria for the scheme is set out on the DfE website and is particularly brief and ambiguous. It indicates that all children/young people up to the age of 21 (or 25 if they are on an ECH plan) who have previously been adopted from care and live in England will be eligible for the support despite the outcome of their adoption placement. This suggests that those in our client’s position would still be eligible under the scheme.
In contrast, a further website that was initially created by the DfE, sets out that in the event of an adoption breakdown the child or young person will only be eligible if there is a clear intention that the child return to the placement on their care plan. There is no further guidance as to whether or not a child remains eligible if there is an intention to return to a placement, but the child never returns, as was the case for our client.
We sent a pre-action protocol letter challenging the ASF’s refusal and the lawfulness of the eligibility criteria itself on various grounds including that it discriminates on the basis of “other status” of the group of children and young people who had been adopted, returned to care and never went back to their placement.
In response to our pre-action letter, the DfE acknowledged the lack of clarity in the criteria and conceded the case, agreeing to provide funding for our client’s psycho-therapy sessions for the next year and to carry out a full review of the ASF eligibility criteria.
The DfE have confirmed the review will be formally tabled and an update will be provided by 31 January 2020.
For further information on this or similar challenges, please contact Olivia Halse firstname.lastname@example.org.