William Eichler 21 December 2023

Court provides clarity on duties owed to children at home

Court provides clarity on duties owed to children at home image
Image: William Barton / Shutterstock.com.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Wolverhampton City Council did not have a duty of care to protect a child from harm from a third party because it could not be established that they had assumed responsibility to protect them.

In YXA v Wolverhampton City Council the claimants alleged that social workers were negligent in not taking action to remove an abused child from the care of their parents/stepfather and exposing them to continuing abuse.

The judge ruled that in this case the council did not have a duty of care to protect the child.

Sarah Erwin-Jones, partner at Browne Jacobson and the lawyer who acted for the council, said the ruling gave local authorities clarity on how far they are legally responsible for children living at home with parents. She said it will ensure they can exercise their statutory duties towards all children in their families without creating an assumption of responsibility and putting themselves at risk of negligence claims.

‘Today’s judgment is a welcome one for local authorities across England and Wales, finally resolving the ongoing question of whether a common law duty of care is owed by local authorities to children living at home with their parents and when a Care Order is not in place,’ she said.

‘Seeking the court’s permission to take children into government care is a big step which councils don’t take lightly – many children have social workers while still living with their parents who are the only people that have parental responsibility.

‘With the care system already bursting at the seams, this judgment will ensure that local governments can focus on the Supporting Families Programme, which seeks to help vulnerable families thrive, building their resilience by providing effective whole family support to help prevent escalation into statutory services in the first place.’

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