The true prevalence of these crimes is unknown, but they have been increasingly exposed and awareness of them is growing.
A clear route of accountability was opened through the Supreme Court case of NA (Armes) v Nottinghamshire County Council in 2017, which extended the law of vicarious liability to also cover foster carers.
This meant that where foster carers abuse children who have been placed in their care, it is now possible to bring a compensation claim against the respective local authority or agency for the abuse inflicted by the foster carer. This change in the law brought liability for abuse by foster carers in line with teachers, priests, Scout masters, sport coaches and other adults in positions of trust.
Children are placed into foster care when they are at their most vulnerable and often having already suffered sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse or having suffered significant neglect. To my mind this makes the betrayal of trust by a foster carer especially heinous.
The actual level of sexual abuse by foster carers of children in their care is unknown but it is likely to be even higher than the cases that result in criminal convictions as many abuse survivors are never able to disclose and some criminal investigations are unable to proceed for numerous reasons or are unsuccessful.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse produced a summary list of foster carers who have been convicted of sexually abusing children in their care and the details are upsetting to read.
The prosecution of foster carers who sexually abuse children in their care continues to the current date and I would encourage all victims and survivors of abuse to disclose to the police if they are able to do so.
The most recent case that resulted in a prosecution is that of Paul Robertson who was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison for sexually assaulting children that he had a duty to care for as a result of being their foster father.
Foster carers have also been found guilty of physical assault and neglect of the children that they were expected to care for. Two examples of this appalling abuse are:
- Betty Roe – convicted in 2007 of physically beating children and depriving them of food and affection. She fostered nearly 300 children in the 1970s and 1980s for Norfolk County Council, while her husband was found guilty of sexually assaulting some of their foster children. He received a three-year prison sentence and was put on the Sex Offenders Register for life while Betty Roe received a four-year prison sentence for her crimes.
- Sharon Lippett – convicted in 2019 of abusing a young girl to the point that she nearly died. The severity of the abuse was only discovered after the child had to be taken to hospital to be treated. Sharon Lippett received a seven-year prison sentence for the abuse that she inflicted.