Foster Care Abuse Survivors to Sue Local Authorities

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Nathalie Swanwick

Abuse Claims Solicitor

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Overturning two previous judgments, the UK Supreme Court delivered a landmark ruling, in 2017, which opens the door for people who were abused by their foster carers to hold the Local Authority to account.

Our Abuse Claims Solicitors at Simpson Millar Solicitors, welcomed the decision and believe we will see an increase in cases brought from abuse survivors in the wake of this judgment.

The Case of Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council

This case concerned a child who was placed in foster care from the age of 7 until the age of 18 years old. Their first foster care experience was with a couple known as Mr and Mrs A which took place between 25 March 1985 and March 1986. Later, the child was placed in foster care with Mr and Mrs B between 23 October 1987 and 28 February 1988.

In the first instance, the appellant (someone who appeals to a higher court) was physically abused by Mrs A and unfortunately later then sexually abused by Mr B. Nottinghamshire County Council denied liability (responsibility) for the crimes perpetrated by the two foster carers, despite the fact that it happened under their watch.

The case was heard by the Supreme Court in 2017 after the case was previously dismissed by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal back in 2015. Ultimately, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal by a majority of 4-1 and found that the local authority was responsible for the abuse committed by the foster parents involved. The court found that the local authority was responsible through a principle called ‘vicarious liability’.

Vicarious liability means that an employer is responsible for the actions of an employee if it was done in the course of their employment. Courts often test this principle. Recently, the Supreme Court decided that a local authority is responsible for foster carers. This is because the authority recruits, trains, and supervises foster parents, pays their expenses, and places children with them. The court recognized that this creates a relationship where children are vulnerable to abuse, and the local authority is essentially in charge.

The reasons for this include considerations such as the fact that the local authority carried out the recruitment, selection and training of foster parents. They also paid for their expenses and supervised the fostering. In addition to this, the placement of children with foster parents created a relationship of authority and trust between the foster parents and children which the court acknowledged resulted in the children being particularly vulnerable to abuse, essentially under the direction of the local authority.

Because the local authority had a lot of control over foster parents, the court decided it's fair to hold them responsible for what the foster parents do. The authority had the power to approve, check, supervise, and remove foster parents.

Additional consideration was given to the fact that most individual foster parents would not have sufficient funds to meet a substantial award of compensation to the survivors of their abuse. In these instances, the survivor is negatively impacted through no fault of their own and should therefore have a legal recourse against the local authority who placed them in a position where they were vulnerable to, and subsequently experienced, abuse.

One of our Abuse Law Solicitors called the decision ‘long overdue’ and said:

“This ground breaking decision finally imposes a legal liability on Local Authorities for acts of abuse committed by foster parents. This is long overdue and a welcome extension of the law to protect vulnerable children.”

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Local Authorities Held Accountable

Our solicitor explains that:

“Local Authorities have for many years argued that they could not be held responsible for the abuse done by foster carer, despite that fact that these are contracted, paid, trained and supervised by them.”

“If abuse was committed by a care worker in a children’s home, the Local Authority would, however, always be held responsible. This is entirely illogical and the Supreme Court has finally recognised that.”

A Chance to be Heard

A member of our abuse team added:

“For 15 years, we have been turning away cases from people who have been abused in foster care, and the Local Authorities have continued to escape responsibility.”

“Now we can finally open the door to those people, and let them have their day in Court. Without doubt, we will see a ground swell of this type of case which is only right.

“Justice is long overdue for people who suffered the most horrendous and crippling abuse as children, under the watch of Local Authorities.”

At Simpson Millar, we believe the recent Supreme Court decision is a positive change for survivors of abuse in foster care. Previously, local authorities avoided responsibility for abuse by foster carers, claiming they couldn't be held accountable for actions of contracted, paid, trained, and supervised caregivers. This legal issue has now been resolved.

Local authorities are trusted with the responsibility to select, monitor, and support foster carers to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for children placed in their care. This duty involves thorough vetting, training, and ongoing supervision to prevent any harm being inflicted upon those vulnerable individuals.

We understand that no amount of money can fully make up for the pain you've gone through. However, you might be entitled to compensation, which could help with various expenses. This may include covering the costs of counselling or therapy and compensating for lost earnings if you can't work due to a psychological illness caused by the abuse.

Get in Touch

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, our team can be contacted on 0808 239 1287. Alternatively, you can request a call back by clicking here. We’re here to listen. The following organisations may also be able to provide you with some help and support:

  • Support for Survivors – can be contacted on 0115 962 2722 or by email at [email protected]. Further information can be found on their website at
  • The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) – can be contacted by telephone on 0808 801 0331 or by email at [email protected]. Further resources are available on their website at
  • Samaritans – can be contacted by calling their free helpline on 116 123 or by email at [email protected]. Alternatively, a text service and online chat function is available, further details of which can be found on their website at
  • SANE Line – can be contacted from 4pm until 10pm on 0300 304 7000 or you can request a call back by leaving a voicemail message on 07984 967 708. Further information about their services can be found at
  • NHS England Mental Health Helpline – access to this service and further information can be found at


‘NHS: Urgent Mental Health Helpline’ by NHS (n.d.) ‘Find an urgent mental health helpline’. Available at: (Accessed: 04/12/2023).

‘Samaritans: Contact Information by Samaritans’ (n.d.) Contact Samaritan. Available at: (Accessed: 04/12/2023)

‘SANE: Saneline Services’ by SANE (n.d.) Saneline Services. Available at: (Accessed: 04/12/2023).

Support for Survivors. (n.d.). Retrieved from (Accessed December 5, 2023)

National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC). (n.d.). Retrieved from (Accessed December 5, 2023)

Supreme Court UK. (2016). "Press Summary: [Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council]." Retrieved from (Accessed December 5, 2023)

Supreme Court UK. (2016). "[Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council]." Retrieved from (Accessed December 5, 2023)

Supreme Court UK. (2016). "Judgment: [Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council]." Retrieved from (Accessed December 5, 2023)

Simpson Millar Solicitors. (n.d.). "Abused Whilst in the Care of a Local Authority." Retrieved from (Accessed December 5, 2023)

Nathalie Swanwick

Abuse Claims Solicitor

Areas of Expertise:
Abuse Claims

Nathalie began her legal career in 2009 after completing her law degree at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2008. She has specialised in abuse claims since 2010, and went on to qualify as a Solicitor in 2013.

Following her qualification Nathalie specialised in a range of personal injury claims including abuse claims and criminal injury claims. She has acted for clients who have suffered life-changing injuries such as brain injuries.

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