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18 October 2017 | Comment | Article by Alan Collins

Abuse of children by foster parents: Who is ultimately responsible?

Today, the Supreme Court handed down the long-awaited judgement about who is liable for the sexual abuse of children in foster care. This decision comes from the case of Armes – v – Nottinghamshire County Council [2017] UKSC 60.

The appellant, Miss Armes, was in the care of Nottinghamshire County Council during her childhood. She was placed into foster care with Mr and Mrs Allison between March 1985 and March 1986, and with Mr and Mrs Blakely between October 1987 and February 1988. The appellant was physically and emotionally abused by Mrs Allison, and sexually abused by Mr Blakely; findings made at an earlier hearing by Males J in the High Court.

The case proceeded on the basis that the local authority was not negligent in respect of the placements. Miss Ames argued that the local authority was still liable for the abuse on the basis that they were in breach of a non-delegable duty of care, or on the basis that they were vicariously liable for the abusive torts committed by the foster parents. In other words the local authority was in effect the employer and should be responsible. The claim was dismissed at first instance in the High Court, and by the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court in its landmark decision today has decided that it is fair, just and reasonable to extend the doctrine of vicarious liability, on the part of a local authority, to cover the acts (even deliberate and intentional acts) of foster parents towards foster children placed in their care, even in the absence of any negligence on the part of the local authority.

The judgment means that survivors of abuse whilst in foster care now have a right of action against the local authorities that placed them. It must be remembered though that this is not a green light for all survivors. Limitation remains a major issue in child sexual abuse cases, and courts will only in exceptional circumstances waive the time bar. Nevertheless, this is a landmark decision which means that victims who previously had no cause of action may now have one.

The judgment may also mean that victims in other situations where there had previously been no liability may also now have a right of action.

Survivors and victims should always seek prompt expert legal advice. If in doubt ask!

Author bio

Alan Collins


Alan Collins is one of the best known and most experienced solicitors in the field of child abuse litigation and has acted in many high profile cases, including the Jimmy Savile and Haut de la Garenne abuse scandals.  Alan has represented interested parties before public inquiries including the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, and IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

Internationally, Alan works in Australia, South East Asia, Uganda, Kenya, and California representing clients in high profile sexual abuse cases. Alan also spoke at the Third Regional Workshop on Justice for Children in East Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok hosted by Unicef and HCCH (Hague Conference on Private International Law).

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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