Social Services have both statutory and common law duty to protect children from abuse

8 November 2011 by

ABB & Ors v Milton Keynes Council [2011] EWHC 2745 (QB)- read judgment

Justin Levinson of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the claimants in this case. He is not the author of this post.

This case concerned the entitlement to compensation for the years of abuse the claimants, three brothers a sister, the youngest, who had suffered at the hands of their father. The older claimants had both suffered regular abuse from an early age until late teens. The third claimant escaped the prolonged abuse suffered by his brothers. The fourth claimant, who was conceived after the defendant social services became aware of the situation, nevertheless endured abuse for five or six years.

The father’s abuse of the older boys came to light in 1992 when the first three claimants were placed on the child protection register and the father moved out of the family home. However charges against him were subsequently dropped and he returned home. The names were removed from the register but the abuse continued.

The facts were not disputed but the principal issue between the parties was that of the quality of social work practice adopted by the defendants’ employees and whether this fell below a reasonable standard.

Statutory and common law negligence

The statutory basis of the defendants’ duties is set out in Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.  Put simply, that section requires any local authority, which suspects that a child in its area is at risk, should take steps to safeguard the child’s welfare. However this duty only arises if it is within the authority’s power and it is “reasonably practicable”  for them to do so. The section does not, in itself, provide a civil cause of action for those who assert that the duty has not been complied with.  There is in addition to the statutory duty a common law – or judge-made – basis for the duty of care in the event of suspected child abuse is to be found in  D and others v East Berkshire Community Health [2003] EWCA Civ 1151.

Standard of care

It’s not enough to say that a duty of care exists and leave it at that. You have to look at the profession or class of workers to which the defendants belong; in this case the duty of social workers duty, in common with other professionals, is to exercise reasonable skill and care. The test to be applied to their efforts was laid down in a clinical negligence case,  Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee, which held that an individual will not be negligent if they act in accordance with practice accepted at the time as proper, by a responsible body of professional opinion, even though another member of the same profession might adopt a different practice.

In this case HHJ Hampton found that there was a failure by the social workers to investigate the history of this family thoroughly and to a standard that would be regarded as a reasonable by a responsible body of social work opinion. The father’s abuse of the claimants had been allowed to continue over a number of years was due to their failure sufficiently to investigate the father’s past, the mother’s ability or lack of ability to protect the claimants and the effect upon the claimants themselves.

Entitlement to damages

The judge observed that the claimants should not be denied compensation for sexual abuse simply because they did not have any diagnosed psychiatric illness (they had already received a payout from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Baord). The claimants are entitled to be compensated for the pain and suffering caused by the abuse itself, as well as its consequences. All the Claimants in the present case suffered personal difficulties as a result of the abuse they have experienced.


In these cases it is difficult to assess what special losses had been incurred as a result of the abuse itself as opposed to the general vicissitudes of living in a dysfunctional family, an alcoholic and abusive father, and a frequently absent mother. The figures he arrived at sought to reflect the personality problems and consequent disadvantage in the labour market caused to the claimants as a result of the defendant’s failure to take the necessary steps to end the abuse.

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  1. I have seen cases where children were so abused in foster care, that they ended up black and blue, unalbe to sit in class, yet the children were returned to these same foster carers 6 months later. Why?

  2. Considering 75% of children are being forced to live with domestic terrorists in this country, because experts like Dr Sturge think children are better off with the more authoritarian parent – the bully, the abuser, the violent one,I am sure that before long there will be many adult children coming forward to ask the courts why they were KNOWINGLY placed with abusers to be abused further.

    What came to light in my research was that social workers, guardians and Judges knew little or nothing of the dynamics of domestic violence and in fact I found CAFCASS teaching their agents that ALL MOTHERS MAKE UP DV and child sexual abuse, yet the actual figure is less than 1%.
    I also learned that judges are taught that all women are FEEBLE MINDED, so it is best to place children with abusive fathers. After all children are the possessions of the patriarchs still.

    Then last week we see with own eyes the abuse rendered out by a judge to his own daughter and in seeing that we now understand the mentality of the teaching still being delivered in 21st century.

  3. Ian Watson.”This child of then 15, came back home on both occasions severely traumatised and within a week was placed on suicide watch where she has remained ever since and has made several real attempts at suicide.”

    Ian , my son experienced similar in 1994 age 8 and has never recovered.

    I have researched it and written about it since.

    It is in fact abuse of the child using the same tactics used in mind control and in prisoner of war camps. It is in fact trauma based, breaking down the child to the point where they no longer know their name, etc and their soul fragments and they disassociate.

    My lawyer explainsed that judges order this on a daily basis in order to force children to submit and comply to the master – social worker/psychologist.

    It is incredible what is allowed to take place in secret becausee of the secret family courts and their Inquisitional energy.

    I commend you for speaking out.

  4. I am sick and tierd of listening to STUPID people who keep stating that all the services to do with childrens well being,and what thay THINK is in the best interests of children,has surely been to prove that the best thing to do is to ASK THE CHILDREN what thay want. Its got to be better for their future,as because of the PARENT who choses to stop the access to the expartner,will become the parent who suffers the conciqencess when the child is old enough to find out the truth,not only that its going to be worse when thay relise not one of the orthorities did the right checks when thay needed it.

  5. Diana Barran says:

    How does this impact the duty of social services where a case is highlighted at a domestic abuse MARAC (multi agency risk assessment conference) where all the children identified will be living with severe domestic abuse, and thus at risk of harm?

  6. See the decision of the ECHR in E and others v the UK, , in which I acted for the claimants; the question posed by the court was “92. […] whether the local authority (acting through its Social Work Department) was, or ought to have been, aware that the applicants were suffering or at risk of abuse and, if so, whether they took the steps reasonably available to them to protect them from that abuse.” That is not the Bolam test.

  7. Ian Watson says:

    Well I would like to know how this would fit in per se, in the context that it was not a family member that abused a child but a social worker and a court expert.

    In regards to my grandson, my daughter was deemed to need a wishes and feelings report on her thoughts about my grandson living with us and was assured by the social worker it would be a “ten minute chat”.

    My youngest daughter is considered a vulnerable person due to her mother who abused her wickedly when she was a toddler, the fact it happened I can lay responsibility to “do gooder” clueless social workers from Bournemouth who fought me in court to allow contact despite offering proof of abuse and it became the point that either I allowed abuse or go to prison.

    My daughter was placed under CAMHS by the local social services office.

    A second interview was scheduled in for her to see Dr Paul Jeffries who was asked to give an opinion of my capacity to change as I had a previous dust up with social services in 2003 that led to one social worker resigning or being fired and a second one being pulled off the case and narrowly missed being charged with perjury.

    So, to cut a very long and disturbing story down, this “10 minute informal” chat I had nothing to worry about, social services I believe had a duty to comply with lawful conduct and before the interviews I demanded that social services and Jeffries both liaise with CAMHS and both were instructed not to discuss sensitive issues not related to my grandson for fear of undoing months of hard work by my daughter in resolving her issues with her mother.

    My daughter was told on both occasions that she had to undergo these interviews, needless to say, social worker and “expert” totally ignored my requests of liaison with CAMHS and not to talk about sensitive issues, both interviews conducted by two different people followed the same pattern, 5 minute discussion regarding my grandson, one hour and 25 minutes without a break or even allowed to use the toilet, she endured being grilled about her mother, about that she lied about a previous social worker, on both occasions my daughter tried to stop the interviews and could not, she tried to leave the room and she could not, both occasions the interviewer stood in front of the door and told her she could not leave the room because the judge said so.

    This child of then 15, came back home on both occasions severely traumatised and within a week was placed on suicide watch where she has remained ever since and has made several real attempts at suicide. Before the interviews, she was making such good progress that CAMHS were considering reducing her schedule, my daughter is now on Sertraline.

    The council have denied any wrongdoing as has the “expert”, the complaints process is a sham yet my brother, a former PACE compliance officer for the Met told me that crimes have occurred here but the police are disinterested.

    I understand that she should have been given a responsible adult on both occasions due to her vulnerable condition, the second time she actually asked for one to be present and was told she could not have one.

    I would welcome any suggestions for action here because my reasonably happy daughter is now a nervous wreck and it can only be attributed to these two interviews.

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