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Child abuse by foster carers: Law and guidance on claims

Foster carers play a vital role in providing (what should be) a safe environment to children who are often at their most vulnerable. Unfortunately, what should be a nurturing environment for vulnerable children is not always the case.

16 November 2023

Children in care are often unseen and unheard. They come into the care system for various reasons but one of the most common reasons is to escape abusive environments in the family home. Decades ago, they would have most likely ended up in a large care home setting but now, a foster placement is the most likely option.

Statistics shown on the fostering network report that 57,540 children were living with foster families as at March 2022, which represents 70% of children in care looked after away from home. Foster carers play a vital role in providing (what should be) a safe environment to children who are often at their most vulnerable and are even paid to do so and the majority of foster carers provide a safe and supportive environment for those they foster.

Unfortunately, what should be a nurturing environment for vulnerable children is not always the case and in some cases foster parents have been responsible for perpetuating physical and/or sexual abuse and/or neglect on the children they foster.

There have been some examples of prosecutions of foster carers who have committed abuse on children in there care such as:

  1. James Thompson was a foster carer who looked after children on respite was convicted of two courts of rape and ten indecent assaults on two children who were placed in his care.
  2. Paul Robertson who was a foster carer, with a private company, who looked after children on respite placements in the early 2010’s. He admitted and was found guilty of numerous counts of sexual activity, voyeurism, sexual assault and making indecent images of children.
  3. Patrick Gallagher was convicted in 2011 of 55 counts of sexual abuse against multiple children, some of which were under his care.
  4. Thomas Judge was a foster father was convicted of sexually abusing 3 children in his care.

Where abuse of any nature has occurred, we strongly advise that this should be reported to the police if the person feels able to do so. However, children or adults who were abused as children by foster parents or foster carers also may have a civil claim for compensation.

Following the Supreme Court decision of Armes V Nottinghamshire County Council (2017) the law changed to allow claims against local authorities for children abused in foster care, on the basis that the local authorities were the de facto employer of those foster carers.

This was a fair decision for victims and survivors of abuse as before then claims against foster carers had not been possible except in very limited circumstances. It is now more straight-forward for victims and survivors of abuse by foster carers to bring claims for compensation against local authorities and many have done so. We have helped a number of victims and survivors of foster care abuse obtain compensation.

Whilst we appreciate that no amount of compensation can provide justice alone for the harm that has been caused, it is hoped that civil remedies can provide a means to acknowledge the harm suffered and provide help with support such as therapy and counselling.

If you have suffered abuse by a foster carer and would like some specialist legal advice on civil remedies then please contact our experts on 0330 041 5869.

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