Local Authorities can be liable for Abuse – What does this mean?
In October 2017 the Supreme Court decided, for the first time, that a Local Authority could be held liable if a child was abused by a foster carer.
Before this decision, someone abused by a foster carer could not seek damages from a Local Authority and they would only be able to claim damages directly from the abuser. This was very rarely possible as the abuser would not have insurance or have enough assets to be able sue directly.
The recent case concerned historic allegations of abuse of a child in the care of Nottinghamshire County Council social services. She was physically, emotionally and sexually abused by a number of her foster carers. The Judge who first heard the case said that foster carers were not employees and therefore the Council would not be responsible for them. The Court of Appeal agreed but the Supreme Court overturned this decision. The Justices hearing the case in the Supreme Court felt that social services had enough control and supervision over the foster carers that they were, to all intents and purposes, employees. As such, the Council would be responsible for abuse carried out by the foster carers.
The Council tried to argue that making them liable for abuse by foster carers would open the floodgates for more claims. Lord Reed was very dismissive of this argument and suggested that if indeed there was such a widespread problem of abuse by foster parents that making a decision would create a large number of claims then the law should expose this.
Lord Reed also recognised the long-term impact that abuse can have. He said that victims of abuse commonly experience a range of long-term emotional and behavioural problems, are disproportionately represented both in the criminal justice system and users of mental health services, often need to receive state benefits because they are unable to take up employment.
He therefore felt that if indeed this was a real issue, then the survivors of foster care abuse need to have a remedy.
Gary Walker is a specialist child abuse lawyer and has been representing survivors of abuse for more than 12 years. Gary says, “this is a monumental decision and should be seen as a recognition of the lifelong impact that abuse can have on a person. It is vital that the law recognises this and that does not distinguish what remedies are available simply because of who they were abused by. It was not right that a child abused by a foster carer was not entitled to damages, but if they had been abused in a children’s home they would have been. The Supreme Court has now put this anomaly right. I hope that those victims of abuse can now come forward and seek the justice and redress that they deserve.”