A child has won £12,000 in damages after a council breached his human rights by mishandling his care proceedings.
A high turnover of social workers at Northamptonshire council was part of a catalogue of errors, omissions and mismanagement, which breached the child and mother’s right to a fair trial and private family life, the High Court ruled.
The authority was fined £17,000 damages for the breaches. It is believed to be the first recorded case of a child being awarded domestic damages following care proceedings.
Justice Keehan said it was “deeply worrying” that the young child, referred to as DS, had eight social workers during his care proceedings. This led to a breach of his and his mother’s human rights, the judge ruled.
High social worker turnover at the council meant there was “a lack of cohesive, comprehensive management and care for a significant period of time”, the judge noted.
It was not until nine months after DS was taken into care that proceedings were issued by the local authority – delays which the judge described as “wholly inexcusable”.
The human rights of DS and his mother were also breached when the council initially failed to take protective action to safeguard DS, when DS did not have someone exercising parental responsibility for 11 months and when the council’s final evidence was “inadequate and incomplete”.
“It is evident to me that neither the social workers, nor the senior managers at Northampton children’s services department had DS’ welfare best interest at the forefront of their minds,” Keehan said.
Inexperienced social worker
“Worse still they did nothing to promote them. Their chaotic approach to this young baby’s care and future life was dismal.”
Keehan also slammed the council for putting the 15-day-old baby on the caseload of a newly qualified social worker (NQSW) who had little experience with care proceedings.
“I cannot begin to understand why an inexperienced social worker who was not familiar with care proceedings was allocated as a social worker for a 15-day-old baby,” he said.
Accommodating DS under a section 20 agreement was “seriously abused” by the local authority, Keehan also ruled, and deprived DS of his right to an independent guardian.
The judge also questioned consent given by DS’ Latvian mother for him to be moved into foster care, as she did not have an interpreter. Despite this, the outcome of the case, which saw DS placed with his grandparents in Latvia, was deemed satisfactory.
A council spokesperson said: “There have been significant changes made to many of our systems and practices concerning looked-after children as a result of the council’s Children’s Services Improvement Programme and we continue to work hard to improve outcomes for children and families in Northamptonshire.”