Listen To Me

No. 30 of #50cases.

Four siblings were born between 1982 and 1988. On numerous occasions between 1987 and 1992  grandparents, teachers and neighbours told others they were worried about the children. In 1987 the oldest child was reported to be stealing food, in 1988 a neighbour reported that the children were locked outside the house for most of the day and in 1989 the house was searched and found to be filthy. Used dirty nappies were discarded in a cupboard and the children’s mattresses were sodden with urine.

Social services were alerted… again… and again. They helped very little. In 1992, the mother cried out that she could no longer cope and threatened to batter the children if no one stepped in. The children were finally taken into care. They were seen by a psychiatrist who said it was the worst case of physical and emotional neglect she had seen and that social services had “leant over backwards to avoid putting the children on the Child Protection Register and had delayed too long, leaving at least three of the children with serious psychological disturbance as a result”.

The children’s guardian took social services to court for failing to protect them from abuse. The English court said it had no remedy for them. To let them sue social services would encourage future families to do the same and make social workers over-cautious.So they took the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court said the children had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. The local authority failed in their duty to protect them. They were awarded €32,000 each to reflect the pain and distress they endured.

Unfortunately, the children continued to suffer depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and lack of integration in education and society. Money was never going to make good what went wrong. But this case may make social workers that bit more unlikely to ignore warnings.

After the case, the UK’s highest court, the House of Lords, decided that the immunity social workers had previously had over abuse claims was no longer justifiable. Because of these four children, thousands more have been able to hold local authorities to account for failing to protect them.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here