New FOI Request: Damages Awarded To Families Because Of Council Failings

As the government appears to be busy with Brexit and other things, we thought it would be good to remind it that child welfare matters aren’t going away any time soon. Our latest Freedom Of Information Request asks for a breakdown of damages awarded to families, by council. 

After coming across this archived post we wrote in 2012 predicting a surge in damages being paid out to families failed by local authorities, we decided to find out if these kinds of awards were on the rise. The request though, is unlikely to offer a definitive answer.

We already know that local authorities’ insurance companies have a vested interest in making complaints go away. The thinking is that the more complaints make it through, the more damages the council may have to pay, which effectively means the more money insurance companies have to shell out. As a result, insurance companies have an inbuilt incentive to prevent claims like these making it out into the open.

The nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse has also promised to look into the way insurance companies handle these kinds of claims and the extent of their conduct in obstructing investigations relating to child protection failings at councils across the country.

In what may be an attempt at shutting the floodgates and preventing councils from collapsing completely, Judges are now interpreting the law in an exclusive, rather than inclusive way, as this recent case shows. The justices in this case took the view that survivors would not be able to sue councils for abuse they suffered as children, if they had not been placed in the full-time care of the State. The impact of this ruling, for now, is likely to destroy a significant number of claims.

And whilst this FOI request looks at damages awarded, it won’t cover those claims in which compensation was not given. Cases where families have received an apology or have been promised a review of their case by a government body won’t be detailed unless the case resulted in the award of damages, further narrowing this request.

So, any information stemming from our latest Freedom Of Information request may not be the best indicator of how many families have been affected by council failings, but it will offer a picture of what the damages landscape looks like and how much the sector is costing the government whilst it runs on inadequate training and at almost zero capacity.

Will the data show a surge in payments? What kinds of payments will it reveal? And, most importantly, are some councils more prone to claims, and paying out compensation than others?

We will have to see.

In the meantime, here is a sample of cases which have been made public:

FOI Damages

Advertisements

Coroner: Baby Poppi Sexually Abused By Father Just Before She Died

A senior coroner has concluded that baby Poppi Worthington was sexually assaulted by her father, just hours before her death.

Poppi died of horrific injuries in 2012. Her story hit the headlines when it was revealed that a serious catalog of failings by social services and police meant that the person responsible for her death would most likely never be charged.

Ministers became so concerned by the case that in 2016, politicians held a meeting in the House of Commons to call for an inquiry into Poppi’s death.

It was widely believed that Poppi’s father inflicted her fatal injuries, which included sexual assault. Two fact-finding judgments by a high court family judge in 2014 and 2016 found that Paul Worthington had abused his daughter shortly before her death.

David Roberts, senior coroner for Cumbria, said that the 13 month old baby had most likely been sexually abused in the early hours of 12th December, 2012. Poppi then suffocated to death.

The Crown Prosecution has received the coroner’s judgment and will be considering the evidence alongside Cumbria’s police force.

Poppi

 

 

 

Trends In Child Protection

2018 is set to be another interesting year for child welfare.

If last year was about government understanding how children impact the economy and society from the ground up, this year will be about a broader awareness of how government can empower under resourced services by looking at the ingenious ways in which families have begun to access information.

The first trend policy makers and stakeholders will need to watch is the growing use of social media, by both families and professionals. Parents and children have been using social media for several years now, primarily for support and advice purposes. Social workers are taking to sites like Facebook and Twitter to contact hard to reach families, and to gain some insight into their service users. Like all internet activity, it can be a force for good when used properly, but there are still some important concerns surrounding child professionals’ use of the net to gather information about service users, which center around privacy.

For some thoughts on how this trend has been developing, these articles below offer information and the latest guidance in this area:

Our advice to service users: if you don’t wish to have you information accessed by anyone other than friends and family, make your accounts online private, using the settings provided on each platform. Vet friend requests as well.

Our advice to professionals: don’t break the law. Privacy is real, and it’s protected by statute and regulation. Make sure that you know the rules in this area and if you don’t, take the initiative and access guidelines for yourself, and your team.

Another trend to watch is the rise of the informed parent across medical matters. This phenomenon was first highlighted by the Ashya King case, where the parents disagreed with doctors about how to treat their son’s cancer and fled abroad to get the treatment they wanted for Ashya. In this case, the parents had done their own, meticulous, research. The treatment Ashya received abroad worked, and he made a full recovery, despite the original doctors saying it wouldn’t and threatening to remove Ashya from his parents in the process. The latest case on this issue was reported last week, with parents rejecting a hospital’s care plan because the family believe the recommendations are detrimental to their daughter. They have also been threatened with the removal of their daughter if they don’t comply, but they’re not giving up. The links on this trend are below:

Access to information will be a major topic over the next 12 months. We predict some child welfare organisations will try to restrict that access, and others will try to infiltrate social platforms to offer their own advice and support with a view to engaging service users and winning clients. We predict this will be the big race in 2018.

Let us know what you think.

SocialMedia

Question it!

Welcome to another week.

The police have criticised the nation’s child abuse inquiry (IICSA) for what they’re calling poor quality allegations, which the force are finding hard to investigate due to a lack of evidence and the anonymous nature of the complaints.

The cost of investigating these cases is at the centre of the row, with police departments around the country saying that they don’t have the resources to process the vast volume of allegations and requests for information. In 2017, around 2,300 referrals were made to Operation Hydrant via the inquiry.

The police are now asking inquiry staff to reduce the number of requests they make for information.

The inquiry now finds itself in a very difficult position. It is for allegation purposes no different to an individual who wishes to lodge details about a potential crime with the police, so the organisation is within its rights to refer cases without being held to a different submission standard. It is also entitled to refer cases anonymously. 

Nevertheless, given the vast amount of alleged victims that have come forward, the inquiry’s powers to access information which go beyond an ordinary individual’s, the police’s limited resources, and its large budget,  the IICSA could be considered to have a greater responsibility to help police forces put information together for each case.

Our question this week then, is just this: Do you think the Inquiry should have a more robust process in place to send on allegations to the police, or is it just fine for an investigative body to refer cases like an individual? 

face_question_mark

Social Worker (Wrongly) Accuses Mum Of Impersonating Complaints Ombudsman – And It’s Hilarious.

One of the things that frustrates us the most about current social work practice is the bloody minded way in which professionals refuse to correct records when mistakes are made. But this latest case is not without its funny moments.

An ongoing child protection complaint involving a mother who has been routinely denied access to her children’s records, has taken a bizarre turn.

Trying desperately to access information held by the local authority in question, and having made several complaints about the way she and her family have been treated by the council, the mother decided to enlist the help of complaints ombudsman, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

hcpc3-672x372

The case was accepted, and so the professional for the HCPC made a telephone call to the relevant social worker at the council to collect details about the child protection professional the mother had lodged a complaint against. The council then wrote to the mother about the conversation.

Stay with us. This is where it gets silly.

In the letter, the local authority social worker tells the mother she is lying about the ongoing investigation, and then accuses her of impersonating the HCPC professional:

Webb Letter 1

The mother, confused and a little upset by the accusation, decides to email the HCPC professional to ask her to confirm the investigation and that it was the HCPC who called, and not her. The HCPC professional then sends the mother a reply:

Webb Letter 2

Without any confirmation that it was in fact an HCPC professional who called, the mother may now be faced with an uncooperative council at best, and at worst, a bias which may affect the outcome of her complaint.

So, what can we take away from this story (other than the importance of correcting errors when they’re made)? Well, as it’s a Friday, we think it might be appropriate to point out the obvious difficulty the social worker had in identifying an HCPC professional, and to offer the mother a glass of wine and tell her that she’ll live to fight another day.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend,

Researching Reform

Ministers And Children’s Policy – Who’s Who In 2018

The government has had yet another cabinet reshuffle – here’s who’s who, as of January 2018:

Home Office:

Ministry Of Justice:

Department For Education:

Department Of Health:

Department For Work & Pensions:

Department For Digital, Culture, Media And Sport:

  • Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock MP

Department For Communities And Local Government – This department no longer exists.

Several ministerial positions have been removed or had their remit altered, and whilst some ministers are new appointees, others have just been shuffled around. You can compare and contrast the changes using our last cabinet reshuffle guide from August, 2017.

For a full breakdown of departments and which ministers head them, click here. 

Child Welfare in 2018A Government Department Breakdown#WhosWho (2)

Government Launches Guide For Victims Of Domestic Violence.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has just published a guide for victims of domestic violence, which aims to offer information on services and support offered by the Department.

The current cross government definition of domestic violence is:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional”

A full explanation of the definition can be found here. 

The guide takes you through the different kinds of evidence that can be used in court, and also covers the following areas which can sometimes be affected by domestic abuse:

  • Housing Benefit
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Universal Credit
  • the benefit cap
  • removal of the spare room subsidy
  • Discretionary Housing Payments
  • Migrant partner support
  • Child maintenance

At the same time, updated court forms have been issued to reflect the new evidence-based requirements for domestic abuse. Changes have been made to Form FM1, Form A, Form A1, Form B and Form C100, and the new forms come into effect today.

Finally, the Lords will be holding a discussion about domestic violence in the context of housing needs for victims, tomorrow at 3pm. The debate centers around the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill, which will have its second reading at the same time. You can watch the debate on Parliament TV.

ImageVaultHandler.aspx

 

 

 

Secretive Tory PR Agency Hosts Seminar With Family Court President

Welcome to another week.

A seminar being held in April 2018 by a Policy Forum owned by the head of a Conservative PR agency in London, is set to look at issues surrounding private and public family law. Guests include President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby and Deputy Director of the Family Justice Policy Division, Dr Elizabeth Gibby.

We rang up the company to try to find out more  about who was organising this seminar, and whether it was open to the public. The forum, which is a registered company, has a  website, however it does not offer any information about members of the company or its political affiliation. There is a telephone number with an area code for Bracknell, in Berkshire, on the site, so we decided to call.

We rang the company twice, and spoke to two receptionists. Both receptionists responded defensively to our queries, and once we started to ask about the individuals involved in putting together the seminar, one receptionist then demanded the name and details of our organisation, which we gave her. Both receptionists refused to tell us the names of the CEO, founder or staff members responsible for these seminar events, telling us instead that they had no idea who was running the Forum.

So we decided to do a little digging.

The event, entitled, “The future for family justice in England and Wales – court reform, divorce law and care proceedings,” has been put together by Whitehouse Consultancy Chairman, Chris Whitehouse, who has a PR agency in Southwark, London called The Whitehouse Consultancy. Whitehouse is also the Conservative Councillor for Newport West Ward on the Isle of Wight. 

The event has been produced under another  company Mr Whitehead owns, called Westminster Forum Projects (WFP).  Companies House records confirm that WFP is a private limited company, also part owned by Peter Samuel Van Gelder. Given that there are only two people running this company, it seems odd that the receptionists had no knowledge of them.

Last year WFP made a loss of approximately of £157,111.00

We asked about whether interested members of the public could attend the event free of charge – it costs £230 plus VAT to attend. One receptionist told us free admission was at the Forum’s discretion.

The venue has yet to be confirmed, but we were told that the seminars were usually held in Westminster, though never inside the House of Commons.

Chairs for this event include Tory MP Suella Fernandes, who has been using the Fathers’ Rights movement to try to bolster aspects of the Conservative Manifesto. 

This is what the description on the WPF website says about their seminar:

“Following Government’s manifesto commitments to explore ways of improving the family justice system – and in the context of rising numbers of both public and private family law cases being brought – this seminar will consider key challenges and opportunities for the development of family justice policy in England and Wales.

Delegates will consider emerging issues in divorce law, looking at the effectiveness of initial trials to introduce on-line divorce and the de-linking of divorce and ‘money’ claims, as well as latest thinking on recent calls for the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce. Discussion is also expected on the protection of children and vulnerable witnesses in the Family Court, including the future for Government’s previous proposals to legislate to prevent perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross-examining their victims.

Further sessions will consider latest trends in care proceedings, looking in particular at challenges for managing the demands being placed on court services by increasing case-loads, maintaining standards following the introduction of the 26 week time limit, and ensuring that the system remains centred around the interests of the child. Following Government’s recent announcement of further funding for problem-solving court services, delegates will also consider the future of family drug and alcohol courts projects, and the implications for both court-users and local authorities.”

This conference is expected to bring together policymakers and the judicial representatives with a range of interested stakeholders, including lawyers, expert witnesses, local authorities and service-user groups, as well as campaign groups, commentators and reporting press.”

 

If you’d like to get in touch with the Forum, you can do so here.

There is also an agenda for the April seminar.

Very many thanks to Nick for alerting us to this event.

Guests