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Let Down by the Care System? A Good Lawyer Will See Justice Done!

Local authorities owe wide-ranging duties to children in care and, with the right legal advice, they can be sued for compensation if they fail to meet them. In a striking example, a woman whose youth was blighted by sexual abuse at the hands of her adoptive father won the right to substantial damages.

By the time that she was about seven, the woman had been sexually abused by at least two members of her birth family. After she was taken into care by the local authority, she was placed with a couple who fostered her and eventually adopted her. She had merely moved from the frying pan into the fire, however, and her adoptive father was some years later convicted of a number of serious sexual offences against her, receiving a lengthy prison sentence.

After lawyers launched proceedings on her behalf against the adoptive father, the High Court noted that the couple had not been trained to act as foster parents before she was placed with them, nor had their suitability for the role been assessed. Prior to her adoption, she had told a social worker that the adoptive father tended to kiss her inappropriately, but her complaint was dismissed and no action was taken.

In upholding her claim, the Court had no hesitation in accepting her consistent and convincing evidence. Despite the adoptive father’s protestations of innocence, the Court found that the jury’s verdicts at his criminal trial were correct. Never having enjoyed a stable and happy life, she had suffered depression and anxiety, self-harmed and developed post-traumatic stress disorder due to the abuse.

The woman’s claim was motivated primarily by a desire to hold the local authority to account for her mistreatment and it had been established in previous proceedings that the council bore vicarious liability for the adoptive father’s wrongdoing. The long delay in her bringing proceedings was readily explicable and the Court exercised its discretion to extend the time limit that usually applies to such cases. The council and the adoptive father were found jointly and severally liable to pay her compensation, the amount of which has yet to be assessed, but is bound to be substantial.



 
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