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Local authority not responsible for foster care abuse, court rules

A local authority cannot be held legally liable for the abuse suffered by a woman while in foster care and living with her mother’s violent partner, a court has ruled.

In NA v Nottinghamshire County Council, the 37 year-old woman complained of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse she had suffered as a child, both while living in foster care and at home at the hands of her mother’s violent partner.

Sitting in the Queens Bench Division of the High Court, Mr Justice Males noted that the woman had “had a very unhappy childhood.”

She had spent periods living with her mother and occasionally her mother’s “violent and abusive” partner as well, along with periods in different foster placements and residential children’s homes.

These experiences had, the Judge declared, “cast a long shadow over her life.”

The woman launched proceedings against Nottinghamshire County Council, claiming that it had failed to common law duty of care to her by failing to protect her from the abuse or prevent it. But her arguments were dismissed.

Judge Males said the woman’s claims had not made clear what the social workers employed by the council at the time could have done to change her circumstances. Both leaving the girl at home or removing her from that environment had potentially serious consequences. Taking the girl into care would have been “an extremely serious step” requiring solid evidence of risk.

In addition, the council had no control over the actions of the foster carers – their independence was central to the concept of foster care. Foster carers did not provide foster care on behalf of the local authority – the local authority placed children in a home environment with a view to them benefitting.

Finally, the local authority had met its fundamental duty of care by placing the woman in foster care as a child, and had delegated its broader duty of care – including protection from harm – to the foster parents. Any other arrangement would place an unreasonable financial burden on local authorities said the Judge.

He declared;

“…it would in my judgment be difficult to draw a principled distinction between liability for abuse committed by foster parents and liability for abuse committed by others with whom a local authority decided to place a child, including its own parents.”

The social workers employed by the Council during the woman’s troubled childhood had exercised reasonable care according to the standards of the day, and so their employer was not liable in law for the abuse suffered.

Read the full judgement here.

Photo of Nottingham Council House by Smashman via Wikipedia

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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