On the 6th June 2019, a landmark judgement ruled that local authorities can now be sued if they fail to protect vulnerable children and young people in their area who are considered to be at ‘risk’, regardless of whether they are officially in care.
The Independent reported that the Supreme Court restored the right of children to sue for negligence where a local authority had failed to protect them from harm, overruling a previous Court of Appeal decision which gave social workers exemption from liability in such cases.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, responded by saying: “Looking after and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most important challenges that councils tackle every day, making sure they have the care, support and stability they deserve.
“We will consider today’s ruling carefully to assess any implications for local authorities.”
Myth Buster: Social Workers are NOT being sued… it is the Local Authorities
Cash strapped local authorities
As social workers we are collectively passionate about supporting vulnerable people within our society; therefore, we agree that this landmark ruling is a positive outcome for those failed or continuously let down by the ‘system’. It will place more emphasis on engaging and working with all vulnerable children and young people; instead of opening and closing cases as quickly as possible due to organisational process pressures. However, can this be achieved by cash strapped local authorities?
Do more with less
You often hear within councils that practitioners are being asked to do ‘more with less’; It’s one of the many ambiguous phrases or ‘soundbites’ we hear within social work on a day to day basis. However, we cannot escape the fact that local authority funding has decreased by up to 20% across the UK since austerity ‘kicked in’. As such, councils literally do not have the budget or capacity to support or work with all vulnerable children and young people across their region.
As such, we have seen an increase in threshold levels, a decrease in preventative services and a reliance on third sector/voluntary organisations (which are worth their weight in gold!). The impact has also been felt within council run social work teams: such as the increased use of hot-desking or satellite working , the removal of business support officers/assistants to central locations and a reduction in support workers/practitioners. Therefore, we must be mindful not to push these structural and financial pressures onto front-line practitioners, who are already at capacity in most areas.
So, if we are truly going to adhere to this landmark ruling and work holistically within society, supporting all those who have the right to services; we must first highlight the need for urgent funding for local councils so as they can address the recruitment, development and retention of social workers, who in turn will have the capacity, commitment and drive to support those assessed as in need.