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Council defends claim over social worker failings and abuse by foster parents

A county council has defended a High Court claim brought by a 37-year-old woman over alleged failings by social workers over her care as well as abuse by foster parents in the 1980s.

Mr Justice Males said the claimant in NA v Nottinghamshire County Council [2014] EWHC 4005 (QB) had had a very unhappy childhood.

“She alternated between periods of living with her mother (and sometimes her mother's violent and abusive partner) and a variety of foster placements, followed eventually by a succession of residential children's homes,” he said.

“Her unhappy childhood experiences have cast a long shadow over her life.”

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NA made three claims against Nottinghamshire. She said that:

  • While in her mother's care she suffered physical and emotional abuse by her mother and her mother's partner, whom she regarded as her father, and that the defendant council failed in the common law duty of care which it owed her by failing either to remove her from her mother's care at a young age or to put in place measures to protect her from the abuse which she suffered;
  • While in the foster care of Mr and Mrs A between 25 March 1985 and 27 March 1986 when she was aged 7 and 8, she suffered physical and emotional abuse by Mrs A for which the defendant was responsible in law.
  • While in the foster care of Mr and Mrs B between 23 October 1987 and 23 February 1988 when she was aged ten, she suffered sexual abuse by Mr B and physical abuse by Mrs B for which again the defendant was responsible in law.

Mr Justice Males found that “[NA] never enjoyed (at any rate for any length of time) what most people take for granted, a secure and loving relationship with her mother; that she was subject to physical abuse from and sometimes lived in fear of her stepfather; and that she was beaten in one of her foster placements and sexually abused in another.

“This is a desperately sad story, though it may be that it is not as unusual as one might hope. It is not surprising that the claimant has struggled at every stage of her life so far.”

Nevertheless the judge concluded – “in agreement in the end with the claimant's own expert in social care” – that Nottinghamshire’s social workers responsible for her case were not negligent.

They had acted reasonably in accordance with the professional standards of the day, he said.

“I conclude also that the defendant council, having exercised reasonable care in the selection, supervision and monitoring of the foster parents with whom the claimant was placed, is not responsible in law for the abuse which they perpetrated,” Mr Justice Males continued.

“The defendant is not vicariously liable for abuse committed by foster parents with whom the claimant was placed. Nor is the defendant liable on the basis of a non-delegable duty. Accordingly there must be judgment for the defendant in this action.”

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