In a landmark ruling yesterday 7th June, the Supreme Court has announced that local authorities are liable to be sued for failure to protect vulnerable children at risk of abuse or neglect – regardless of whether they are in the authority’s care.
Campaigners for the ruling describe a ‘real sense of justice and vindication’ for vulnerable children, who can now bring claims for compensation against LA’s who fail to investigate and take action to protect them.
LA’s have always been accountable to children in their care, but this latest ruling effectively means that authorities have a duty of care to any child at risk within their boundaries. It overrules a previous Court of Appeal decision which gave social workers exemption from liability in such cases.
The previous decision involved Poole Borough Council. The CoA ruled they were not at fault in the case of a mother and her two children being subject to abuse from residents in their neighbourhood. The family felt they suffered physical and psychological harm and asked the council to rehouse them away from their neighbours, which was rejected in 2015.
Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights campaign group Article 39, who intervened, said: “We are incredibly relieved that the Supreme Court has reinstated the potential for children and young people to bring negligence claims against local authorities who have failed to protect them from harm”.
A spokesperson from the Local Government Association said: “Looking after and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important challenges that councils tackle every day, making sure they have the care, support and stability they deserve. We will consider today’s ruling carefully to assess any implications for local authorities”.
If the ruling leads to increased spending on social welfare, this could provide some much-needed relief to families in the UK’s most deprived areas. Councils are facing an estimated £3.1billion funding gap for children’s services by 2025.
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