Long Awaited Decision on Social Services Negligence

By David Greenwood, Director and Solicitor, Child Abuse

(This applies to Exploitation and “failure to remove” cases).

Since December 2017 we have been waiting for the most senior judges in England to decide whether councils can be held liable for negligent social workers. Hundreds of claimants across the country were fearful that judges could have given councils immunity from having to compensate children for failures.

The case is called Poole Borough Council v GN [2019] UKSC 25

In a decision announced yesterday (6th June 2019) common sense prevailed.

The judges decided that where experts offer their skills to the public but provide a negligent service their employers can be held responsible. This will apply to social workers working for the council who investigate and make decisions on how best to keep children safe. This will apply especially to children (a vulnerable group) who are affected by social work decisions.

Failed care cases

Where social workers become involved with a family they are expected to exercise reasonable skill and care to protect them from harm. That is the job and specialism of a social worker. The case says at paragraph 80:

“..a public body which offers a service to the public often assumes a responsibility to those using the service. The assumption of responsibility is an undertaking that reasonable care will be taken, either express or more commonly implied, usually from the reasonable foreseeability of reliance on the exercise of such care”.

Children impliedly entrust their welfare to professionals looking after them.

My view is that there has been an assumption of responsibility in all cases where social workers have had more than a minimal involvement with a child.

The Rotherham and Oxford exploitation cases provide stark examples of the failure of professionals at all levels. This case allows those affected to claim redress. 

The child abuse team at Switalskis Solicitors represent survivors of child abuse due to social work mistakes, including failures to protect from sexual exploitation and grooming. They have extensive experience in helping those who have been affected by child abuse to achieve justice.

If you were a victim of child abuse and would like confidential advice, please contact David Greenwood, Bev Mercer, Sally Smith or Amy Clowrey on 0800 138 4700 or by e-mail at david.greenwood@switalskis.com