A council has been found liable for the sexual abuse of four children by their father spanning 15 years because of poor social work.
The High Court ordered Milton Keynes Council to pay £319,000 damages to the children because social workers had failed to research the father’s background thoroughly, failed to adequately assess the mother’s ability to protect her children and failed to investigate the impact of the abuse on the children.
The case involved a long-term substance misuser who first admitted sexual abuse of his two eldest children at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 1992.
The disclosure led to enquiries by the local police and a referral to social services, then run by Buckinghamshire Council. The father moved to lodgings and the first three children were placed on a child protection register. The fourth child was born two years later.
However, no charges were brought against the father and he returned to the family home on the day of a child protection conference in 1992 without any restrictions or undertakings.
The family was engaged in counselling and other therapeutic work around the father’s drug and alcohol abuse, but the social workers concluded he no longer had sexual feelings for his children and closed the case in 1993. The father continued to abuse all his children until 2005 when he had a severe stroke.
Despite two further incidents raised by the children’s school in 1993, the case was only re-opened when the eldest son attempted suicide, after which he disclosed the abuse.
Judge Alison Hampton said social workers had made no attempt to follow up a chance remark from the mother that the family had had to leave Israel because of allegations of sexual assault against the father, nor did they investigate concerns that the “mother seemed to be holding something back”.
“The social workers appeared to be accepting what they were told by the parents at face value, at an early stage, rather than pursue enquiries with an open mind and despite the reservations expressed by those involved in the first planning meeting that the mother was holding something back,” she said. “I accept that this case had the unusual feature that the abuse was disclosed on the father’s own admission. Long experience of cases of this nature indicates that one cannot assume that the perpetrator of child abuse is necessarily open and honest.”
Such cases are rare because social worker conduct is assessed by reference to professional norms at the time of the complaint and something more than an error of judgement by a social worker is needed to establish negligence.
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