The mother of a two year old boy caused bruising and other injuries, a family court has ruled.
East Sussex County Council v BH & Others concerned ‘BT’, who was born in October 2012. The county council launched proceedings in September last year after the toddler suffered bruising on three occasions. Bite marks were also identified. The boy’s paternal grandmother was identified as a suitable alternative carer and a special guardianship order made in her favour despite the fact that she was a user of cannabis.
Special guardianship provides vulnerable children with a secure place to live, but, unlike adoptees, they maintain links to their birth parents.
At the family court in Brighton, Her Honour Judge Jakens conducted a fact-finding hearing regarding responsibility for the bruising.
The Judge noted that both BT’s parents were “both young and sadly for both of them their childhoods were very difficult and have left their mark. Both of them are vulnerable and have a lot of issues to contend with of their own.”
When the child’s mother, referred to as ‘BH’, gave her evidence, the Judge continued, it was clear that she had had “some very damaging experiences which still show as deep emotional scars”. Her family background included drug abuse, sexual abuse, mental health issues, bullying and domestic violence.
The mother continued to face mental health issues and emotional disturbances, including problems controlling her temper, thanks to her troubled childhood. She had been diagnosed with ‘emotionally unstable personality disorder’, suffered from epilepsy and has a “volatile” relationship with her own mother.
Meanwhile, BT’s father, ‘JT’, had also had unhappy experiences during his childhood, including exposure to domestic violence, but unlike the mother he was thought to have “largely overcome” these through treatment. His own history included episodes of aggressive behaviour, depression and self-harm.
As parents, said Judge Jakens, the mother had been overly harsh with her son while JT had “lacked insight” into the realities of the situation.
During his short life to date, BT had lived with his mother, but received regular visits from his father. At one point, mother and son were living in a Salvation Army hostel. Shortly afterwards BH and JT had a physical altercation during which the grandmother removed BT “for his safety”.
Later, bruising and marks were discovered on the toddler’s body during a visit to A&E, and social workers became concerned about the rough way he was treated by his mother.
She gave a number of explanations for the injuries. She admitted that she engaged in “rough tickling” but Judge Jakens found her to a poor witness.
“Her accounts to professionals have been inconsistent, but she was unable take the opportunity to provide me with any clear explanation as to what had happened to her son. Her replies were non-specific, vague and generalised and she appears to have little grasp of facts and very poor and unfocussed recall.”
Judge Jakens concluded that the various injuries had most likely been caused by the mother, but added that it was not possible to determine her intentions.
“ I cannot say she caused the injuries deliberately, nor what she did, but clearly whatever happened went beyond normal, careful and appropriate handling of a child and play with a child, and was harmful.”
Both parents had been detached from the reality of BT’s life, the Judge declared.
“Overall it is my impression from the evidence of both BT’s parents that both of them were both less than observant and less than vigilant of BT. It appears he was often getting into scrapes with other children, falling over, getting bitten, being tickled “too hard” by his mother. They did not really seem to have communicated at all times about what was happening to BT either.”
Read the judgement here.
Photo of Brighton by Bojan Lazarevic via Wikipedia