A baby injured by his learning-disabled parents should be adopted, a family court judge has concluded.
The baby was just six weeks old when he was taken to a Lancashire hospital. Doctors found bone and skull fractures. The local authority launched care and placement proceedings. He had been living with his parents and maternal grandparents and social workers believed someone in the family group were responsible for the injuries. Unsurprisingly, they disputed this claim, suggesting the fractures had in fact been caused by the hospital doctors and insisting their son be returned from foster care.
In the Family Court sitting at Leyland, His Honour Judge Duggan noted that:
“The burden of proof is on the local authority. The family need explain nothing. The local authority must prove their allegations on the balance of probabilities and proof must be based on evidence and proper inferences from evidence.”
His role as Judge in such a case did, however, involve close examination of the credibility and reliability of the parents and grandparents.
“Experience indicates that it is common for witnesses to lie in circumstances like this, not just in the investigation process but during the hearing itself. I reflect that a witness might lie for many reasons including shame or loyalty or fear.”
Bone fractures required the application of force to a very young baby, Judge Duggan explained, but, he added, it was not always possible to be sure of the precise perpetrator, and in such cases, “the court should identify all those of whom it can be said that there is a real possibility that they are a perpetrator.”
He noted that the baby’s father was learning disabled and also had some degree of autism. The mother also had a degree of intellectual disability and autistic traits as well. As a result, both struggled at times to follow the court proceedings.
Meanwhile, the grandparents had an extensive track record of child care, but they had found themselves at loggerheads with the local authority.
“There is nothing in their busy home or in their backgrounds to suggest that the baby should live elsewhere. An older child suffered sexual abuse in the community and the grandparents are of the strongly held view that they did not then receive the professional help that they needed. It is clear that this has resulted in them taking a negative attitude to professionals.”
He ultimately concluded, however, that the family had been responsible for the injuries, after carelessly dropping and roughly handling the baby in a moment of anger. The medical evidence did not support their claim that the doctors had been responsible.
The Judge ruled out one suggested alternative to adoption – leaving the baby in the sole care of his grandparents.
“… I do not accept that the grandparents can be trusted to keep the parents at arm’s length and to supervise contact. They do not believe that the parents have or are capable of injuring the child. The grandfather in a moment of insight confessed that, whatever the findings of the court, he would always believe that the doctors were to blame and that responsibility did not lie in the family.”
“I have reached the clear conclusion that this is one of those exceptional cases in which the welfare of the child dictates that he cannot live with the family. Nothing else but adoption will do. The child’s welfare does require that parental consent be dispensed with in order that that plan be implemented.”
You can read Lancashire County Council v C in full here.