child_abuse_sue_authoritiesHundreds of young people are trying to sue local authorities in England and Wales for failing to remove them from abusive homes, lawyers are claiming.

Victims are claiming that social workers' negligence meant they were not protected from abuse.

Sarah Erwin-Jones, a solicitor who acts for local authorities, said such cases were expensive and time-consuming.

But lawyers bringing claims say they open up social work to proper scrutiny and can put right past injustices.

Ms Erwin-Jones said the cases could cost as much as those for clinical negligence, but bring in as much compensation as for a minor traffic accident.

She added a typical case took years to settle, concerned events several decades old and that many would fail.

Knife threat

One woman, who only wanted to be identified as Pippa, was sexually and physically abused by her father and mother for years.

Recalling the day her sister went into care, she said: "My dad saw her in the street, came home to get a knife and then went back out to look for her."

Pippa was left with her parents for four more years before going in to care.

"I wished they'd taken me with her. They should have investigated more."

Three years ago, Pippa, now in her 20s, received £35,000 after settling a case against her local authority for failing to protect her from abuse.

"All I wanted at the time was a 'sorry', the money is never going to get rid of the pain," she said.

Wider problems

Ms Erwin-Jones said: "We can see that with the benefit of hindsight different decisions could have been made but that is not the circumstances in which social workers operate."

For some, she believes it would be better if victims applied to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority rather than bring civil cases for negligence.

Hilton Dawson, chief executive of BASW, the professional body for social workers, said he felt these cases were symptomatic of wider problems.

"Resources are getting tighter, it's more difficult to do effective social work. It's probably a contributory factor to social workers leaving the profession."

But Malcolm Johnson, a solicitor who acts for young people like Pippa, said: "Sometimes social workers and those who employ them don't quite get it. They don't quite get that they are accountable."

He said the cases served an important public function: just like those for medical negligence, they could improve practice.

"It lays open social services to the glare of the court," he added.

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