A family judge has taken the rare step of awarding a 10-year-old boy damages for breaches of his human rights whilst in local authority care.
Judge Richard Rundell, sitting at Worcester Family Court, ruled that serious local authority errors and delays led to a lost opportunity for Child B “to make contact with members of his extended family”.
A care order was made for B in February 2011, and Worcestershire County Council was ordered to withhold contact with his mother following concerns that she could have a potentially “harmful impact” on him.
The man thought to be his father had refused to take a DNA test and played no part in the case.
The judge said the council initially decided that B, who has serious behavioural difficulties, should be placed for adoption. No appropriate adopters were found and the plan was changed to allow long-term foster care.
A local authority panel agreed the change in February 2012.
The judge said the original adoption placement order should at that stage have been revoked and the matter ordered back to court, with members of his family given a fresh chance to contact him. But that did not happen for three years, until February 2015.
During the intervening period there were seven “looked after child” (LAC) reviews and a failure by an independent reviewing officer (IRO) to take adequate action.
When the application to revoke the previous order was finally brought to the Family Court, the boy’s court-appointed guardian did not oppose it, but he did argue that they should pay the child damages for the excessive delay.
The guardian said that Worcestershire County Council had breached the boy’s Article 6 and Article 8 rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, which cover the right to a fair legal hearing and the right to a family life.
Awarding the boy £5,000, the judge said it was “just and appropriate” compensation for his “loss of access to justice, and the lost opportunity over three years to develop a relationship with at least one of his half siblings”.
He declared: “In my judgment there has been here a lost opportunity for this child to make contact with members of his extended family; the passage of time is likely now to make this more difficult.”