Council gave personal data of adopted parents to children’s birth mother

Suffolk County Council's headquarters Endeavour House Picture: ARCHANT

Suffolk County Council's headquarters Endeavour House Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: ARCHANT

A couple who adopted three Suffolk children say they are living in fear after their personal information was wrongly given to the birth mother.

investigations unit logo

investigations unit logo - Credit: Archant

The family, who have asked not to be named, fear Suffolk County Council’s error could allow the biological parents to track them down and take the children away.

They have installed CCTV, darkened windows and put up fences at their home – and launched a legal fight for compensation so they can relocate with new identities.

But although SCC has admitted the error and offered a payment, the family say it is not enough to even cover their legal fees.

“What we’ve experienced from the council has been truly shocking,” said the father. “We never wanted to move, we did not want to be in this situation, but they’ve not given us any choice. We’re living like prisoners in our own home.”

The couple dealt with SCC in 2010 when adopting two young brothers who had been removed from their parents. Two years later, SCC asked the family to adopt a third brother, after the mother became pregnant again. Soon after, the couple learned the mother was appealing the adoption and solicitors had asked for case details. While appellants in adoption cases are entitled to certain details, SCC wrongly gave the entire case file, which included personal information about the family and relatives.

SCC said it would not comment on specific cases. But it confirmed in a letter to the family “highly sensitive” information had been sent to the birth mother and apologised. It added the mother had not seen the information and would not act on it.

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The letter was sent in 2013, soon after the family’s data breach was identified. Since then, the family suffered the death of one of their sons, in unrelated circumstances. They claim to have spent much time and energy trying to negotiate a satisfactory solution with SCC. “It feels like they’ve washed their hands of us,” the father said. “If they can do it to us, how many other people are they prepared to do it to?”

The family’s solicitor Glyn Maddocks said: “All organisations make mistakes. But the problem here is that SCC doesn’t seem to accept the consequences of their mistake, which is that the family have had an awful few years.”

With an appeal deadline nearing, the family has launched a Crowd Justice fundraiser.

Increase in data breaches

Suffolk County Council (SCC) recorded 265 personal data breaches last year – up 20% from 221 in 2017, figures show.

As reported by this newspaper, five of six Suffolk councils saw the number of breaches increase year on year, with SCC accounting for the greatest share.

The breaches represent cases when personal, private or classified information was exposed to those it was not intended for, including by human error, lost records, or malicious phishing scams.

Chris Bally, SCC’s deputy chief executive said the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation, which came into force last May, placed a new duty on all organisations to report data breaches to the Information Commissioners Office.

He said SCC already had strong arrangements for managing data breaches, but the changes required robust breach detection, investigation and internal recording and reporting procedures.