Councils legally accountable for safety of children known to social workers, Supreme Court rules

Compensation claims against councils that fail to protect vulnerable children from harm could be brought after a landmark judgment ruled councils are legally accountable for their care. The Supreme Court judgment, handed down today, found social workers owe all children a duty of care – regardless of whether they are officially in care – to protect them from the risk of sexual, emotional and physical abuse or neglect. The move overrules a previous Court of Appeal decision last year that found Poole Council was not at fault in the case of a mother and her two children – one of whom is severely disabled – being subject to abuse from their neighbours. The family claimed the council was at fault for placing them next door to a family which, according to the Supreme Court papers, the council knew “had persistently engaged in antisocial behaviour”. The children, one of whom was the subject of a child protection plan, then suffered a series of verbal and physical assaults by the neighbour’s children, it was claimed. The family said they suffered physical and psychological harm and wanted to the council to rehouse them away from their neighbours. They claimed the council had a “duty of care” under the Children Act 1989, a claim that was rejected by a court ruling in 2015. The court also rejected the family’s claim for damages from the council as compensation as judges agreed it could not be said “that the claimants and their mother had entrusted their safety to the council, or that the council had accepted that responsibility”.

Solicitors Simpson Millar, which represented Article 39 and the Care Leavers’ Association both of which acted as interveners in the case, said it was a “ground-breaking decision” that clarified the law for councils with regards to their duty of care. Read more.

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