Lancashire care system scandal exposed

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A TOP judge has exposed a shocking scandal in the care system which saw two baby boys stripped of their family ties and shunted around a catalogue of foster parents, suffering permanent psychological damage in the process.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson said Lancashire County Council’s treatment of the brothers, who were aged just two and six months when taken into care, amounted to “inhuman or degrading treatment” in violation of their fundamental human rights.

The judge’s ruling, which indicated that the boys’ story may be anything but unique, will send shock waves through social services departments and opens the way for the boys, now aged 16 and 14, to seek massive compensation from the council for their ruined childhood.

The judge said the boys’ parents had separated and their father was homeless when Lancashire social workers stepped into their lives in 1998. They were freed for adoption in 2001, but social workers never succeeded in finding new families for them.

Although adoption orders remained in place for 11 years, the boys were instead moved from foster placement to foster placement and, as their behaviour became more unsettled and disturbed, links between them and their natural family was “eradicated”.

The judge said Lancashire had, over the years, “defaulted on its duties towards the children” and its own independent reviewing system broke down so that the council was never brought to account, nor did the boys’ cases receive independent scrutiny.

Urging a review of the adoption system and beefed-up independent reviews of local authority actions, he added that questionnaires sent around other councils had revealed a number of other children in similar positions to the two boys.

The judge said the history of the boys’ progress, or lack of it, through the care system ran to “a staggering 19,000 pages of social work records” and both of them are now suing the council for negligence, breach of legal duties and violations of human rights.

The boys suffered abuse during two of the foster placements, including being forced to stand against a wall in their underpants as punishment for fighting, and one of their foster carers has since been convicted of sex offences against another child and jailed for three years.

Mr Justice Jackson declared that Lancashire’s failings amounted to breaches of the boys’ rights to respect for family life and a fair hearing by an independent tribunal, under Articles 8 and 6 of the Human Rights Convention. The ban on “inhuman or degrading treatment”, under Article 3, was also violated, he said.

The boys’ damages claims will now be transferred for hearing to the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court.