Court says local authorities are legally responsible for abuse by foster parents
There has been longstanding debate as to whether foster carers should be considered employees of a local authority. Despite a foster carer being trained, supervised, paid and selected by the local authority, for many years the law has not considered them to be an employee. This has had the effect of allowing a local authority to argue they are not legally responsible for the actions of their foster carers. However the courts have now ruled that foster carers are to be considered employees and a local authority will be held liable for abuse by foster parents, regardless of whether they were aware such abuse was taking place.
When the local authority has removed a child from the care of their parents and placed them in foster care, that child has a right to be safe and well cared for. Whilst most foster parents provide a secure and nurturing home environment, this is sadly not always the case. Where a child has suffered abuse when in foster care it can be difficult to establish the local authority was negligent in failing to be prevent the abuse. Furthermore, before the point at which the local authority could be expected to know, the abuse is likely to have taken place on multiple occasions. This could significantly limit the amount of compensation that claimant receives, as they would only be entitled to receive damages for the harm suffered after the point at which the local authority should have intervened. However, following this judgment, there is no longer a need to establish negligence where abuse has been perpetrated by a foster parent. The local authority can be held vicariously liable for the abuse suffered and the claimant will be entitled to compensation for the entirety of the abuse they experienced.
This judgment will allow many survivors of sexual abuse by parents to pursue justice, which they have previously been prevented from doing due to the position of the law. Rachel Thain, specialist abuse lawyer, says,
“This is a landmark ruling which I very much welcome. For those who have suffered abuse at the hands of their foster carer, the breach of trust and harm caused can be devastating. They often find themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire. I wholehearted support the decision made by the Supreme Court. A barrier to those who deserve justice has been removed, so they have the opportunity to force a local authority to take responsibility and compensate them for what happened to them.”