A father with learning difficulties may have caused injuries to his baby but “no one took any steps to obtain assistance for him in caring” for the child, a judge declared in a recently published case.
Re A was a retrial. At a previous fact-finding hearing, the man had been declared responsible for the head injuries, suffered when the baby was six months old. The baby, called ‘A’ in case reports, was subsequently taken into care.
However, the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial, saying the original judge had not taken sufficient account of the man’s learning difficulties and he had not, therefore, had a fair hearing.
At the fresh hearing, in the Family Division of the High Court, the man was provided with a special intermediary and the participating solicitors and barristers were instructed in the most effective ways to talk to him.
Mr Justice Baker discussed the issues faced by disabled parents caught up in care proceedings. He concluded:
“I, therefore, find that A suffered a comparatively minor head injury…whilst in the father’s care…. I absolve the mother from any responsibility for the injuries and there is to my mind no evidence that she has failed to protect A in any way. I do not accept the suggestion that she is to be criticised for ringing NHS Direct rather than 999. A’s symptoms were not so obviously serious that the emergency services were required.”
“I anticipate that, as a result of my findings, the local authority may now move quickly to restore A to the care of her mother who has been having increased contact in recent months.”
Turning to the father, he declared:
“It is possible that the injuries sustained by A were attributable in part to the father’s imperfect understanding of risk to a small baby. Some people were aware that the father did not fully understand the risk, yet no one took any steps to obtain assistance for him in caring for A. Now that the risk has been identified, the father will, I hope, receive assistance, but plainly more needs to be done in other cases to identify and address such risks at an earlier stage.”
The man should remain part of his daughter’s life, the judge continued.
“Although it is too early to make a final decision on the details of his future contact with his daughter, my provisional view is that it is likely to be in A’s best interests to have regular contact with her father as she grows up so that he can play a role in her life.”