Remember Maureen Barrett – a battling grandmother who fought for underpaid kinship carers
Maureen Barrett has died. There were no obituaries for her in the local paper – but Maureen was a special grandmother. She helped to change the way local authorities treat grandparents and kinship carers. She’ll be remembered by Google! Anyone who searches against Barrett v Kirklees MC finds her on top of page 1! She can’t be missed!
Mrs Barrett was 63 years old when she took up the fight with Kirklees to be fairly treated by them. She cared about her grandson L.
L was born in 2002. Kirklees Social Services became involved with L, following concerns about the ability of his mother to look after him. L was made the subject of Care Proceedings and placed with foster carers.
Maureen put herself forward as a potential carer for L. She was made a party to the care proceedings, but did not consider applying for a special guardianship order. Her position in the proceedings was that a care order was appropriate. The idea that she should become L’s special guardian came late in the day from the social worker who was involved in the case and this was supported by L’s Children’s guardian
At the final hearing in the care proceedings, which took place in March 2006, the court made a special guardianship order to Maureen with a three year supervision order to Kirklees.
In his judgment on her challenge to Kirklees the judge observed that the “special guardianship plan which was put to the court was cobbled together at the last minute: in fact it was signed by the social worker and her manager on the day of the hearing.”
The plan stated that SGO Allowance would be paid at £74.71 a week. This was based upon Kirklees residence allowance which was itself two-thirds of fostering allowance. This way of calculating the level of Special Guardianship Allowance was typical of the way many local authorities acted. Maureen had no private means. She just received pension credit. She needed financial support to care for L.
There is no doubt that L was a handful. He was described as “a very damaged child” whose behaviour at home was “often terrible.” He was “quite violent” and “shouts and screams when he does not get his own way.” He “finds it impossible to play with other children out of school.” School did not absorb his energy, but school holidays “are a nightmare”. Like many kinship carers Maureen did not have the money to pay for the activities which would use up L’s energy and keep him occupied.
So Maureen was short of money, caring for a damaged child and to add to her problems she had to face contested proceedings brought by L’s mother for increased contact. The contact had to be supervised through Social Services because it was described as “anything but routine.” She was a woman under pressure – and Kirklees were adding to it by paying her at an illegal rate.
The level of the payments she received from Kirklees was never based on any individual assessment of Maureen’s financial requirements in respect of L. There were no annual reviews of the amount to be paid to her.
It was based on a Kirklees policy which discriminated against Kinship carers. There was clear Statutory Guidance and case law which said that the level of the Special Guardianship Allowance should be the same as the core fostering allowance.
Kirklees wouldn’t see sense. Efforts were made to obtain proper explanations of the position adopted by Kirklees. Maureen saw that she achieved nothing through these approaches. She was been forced to commence a Judicial Review application. Ridley & Hall acted on her behalf in the proceedings.
Maureen won. The judge decided that “Kirklees’ policy to pay SGO Allowance at two-thirds of core fostering allowance, involved a substantial departure from the relevant ministerial guidance. No sufficient justification for that departure has been provided. It follows that the decision and policy were, and the policy remains, unlawful.”
She got paid the right weekly allowance and back pay.
Commenting Nigel Priestley Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall said:
“Local authorities and society in general need the Maureen’s of this world. L didn’t become any easier to care for after her victory. He would never have settled in foster care. Maureen gave him care and stability. But she was treated very badly by Kirklees and she was ready to fight for the correct allowance. She was determined to make Kirklees change its policy– and by doing so she made sure that kinship carers across England and Wales benefitted!
It made other Councils change. For example based on this decision the Local Government Ombudsman ruled that Liverpool Council should compensate over 340 families where the local authority had acted just like Kirklees. It cost them over £1.25 million.
I doubt that this was reflected on Maureen’s tombstone. But Barrett v Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council  EWHC 467 (Admin) will stand as a lasting memorial to Maureen’s life and the love she had for her grandson.”