Supreme Court: Nottinghamshire council liable for foster care abuse

18 Oct 17

Nottinghamshire County Council has been found to be “vicariously liable” and will face damages for the physical and sexual abuse suffered by a woman while she was in foster care.

The council said this ruling would have “far-reaching implications” for local authorities across the country.

The victim, who can be named, was in foster care from between the ages of seven and eighteen during which time she was abused.

Natasha Armes argued that the council were liable for her abuse, either on the basis that they were in breach of a non-delegable duty, or on the basis that they were vicariously liable for the wrongdoing of the foster parents. However her claim had been dismissed by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court today ruled by 4-1 that the authority was vicariously liable but not liable on the basis of a non-delegable duty.

Lead judge Lord Reed said: “The appellant in this case [Armes] spent most of her childhood in local authority care. The council placed her with foster parents who subjected her to physical and sexual abuse.”

He added: “Under the legislation in force at the relevant time the council had a statutory duty to provide accommodation and maintenance for the children in its care.”

This could be either in a children’s home or with foster parents.

Reed said the council had parental powers over the children and had the power to monitor foster parents and remove children from their care if required.

The Supreme Court’s ruling stated that it found that the foster parents formed an integral part of the organisation of the council’s children’s services.

Reed also noted that the council was in a better position to pay damages than the foster parents.

“For these reasons the court concludes that the council are liable for the harm which the appellant suffered at the hands of the foster parents whom it had recruited and engaged to look after her,” he said.

The next stage in the case will look at assessing the damages to be awarded.

Colin Pettigrew, corporate director for children and families at Nottinghamshire County Council, said the abuse suffered by Armes was “a matter of huge regret to us”.

He added: “We, of course, accept the findings of the Supreme Court and will be working with Ms Armes’ representatives to resolve any outstanding issues related to our liability.

“This Supreme Court determination will have far-reaching implications for us and every other local authority across the land which has children’s social care responsibilities.”

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