It is the duty of local authorities to step in to protect children at risk – however, such powers have to be exercised under the supervision of the courts. In one case which illustrated the point, a troubled 14-year-old girl was awarded damages of £17,500 for a catalogue of council failures which violated her human rights.
There was no dispute that the girl’s mother was unable to look after her and she was living with her aunt when social workers intervened. She had since lived with seven different sets of foster carers, with each placement breaking down due to her disruptive behaviour. There was no firm care plan for her and she had throughout believed that she might be returned to her mother’s care at any moment.
The High Court noted that the local authority had delayed for more than three years in seeking a formal care order. That had resulted in the girl being denied access to an independent guardian or legal representatives who would have ensured that she had an effective voice. The prolonged failure to properly assess her needs also meant that she did not receive appropriate therapeutic support.
There was no suggestion that the council had acted in bad faith and the Court made the care order sought. However, it found that the local authority’s prolonged failings had seriously interfered with the girl’s right to a fair hearing and to respect for her family life. She was awarded £17,500 in compensation for her unlawful treatment and the local authority was ordered to pay the action’s legal costs.