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08 AUG 2013

WITHDRAWAL OF CARE PROCEEDINGS: Re E (Withdrawal of Care Proceedings) [2013] EWHC 2400 (Fam)

(Family Division, Theis J, 30 July 2013)

The child was born with complex medical needs which required highly specialised care. She was diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder and was ventilator dependent requiring a cuffed tracheostomy tube. She was eventually discharged home upon the parents receiving training in how to care for the child with a package of support offered by Virgin Care.

Care proceedings were ongoing in relation to the now 23-month-old child due to local authority concerns that on at least two occasions the parents had put the child at risk of significant harm by cutting the inflation cuff tube, which formed part of her ventilation equipment, and failed to properly understand her medical needs.

On the 9th day of the fact-finding hearing, after hearing evidence from 22 witnesses the local authority sought permission to withdraw its case on the basis that it recognised that it would not be able to establish the threshold criteria to the required standard.

The judge criticised the way the information had been presented, both before and after the issue of proceedings, and the process that was used by the local authority. It graphically illustrated the dangers of not rigorously analysing the evidential foundation for and against any allegations made and not exercising a balanced judgment. Due to the complexities of the case it required strong, experienced leadership from the local authority who held primary responsibility for safeguarding issues. There was no check on the structures that failed to provide what was required in the case.

The evidence demonstrated that, despite all odds, the child was meeting all of her developmental milestones as a result of the high standard of the parents' care. That however, was not clearly expressed in the written statements prepared for the hearing which focused on the concerns without any appropriate balance being given to the positives. Concerns about the parents' relationships with professionals lacked any real foundation but as was the case with other concerns, they were not properly analysed and were repeated in subsequent meetings escalating the gravity.

Permission to withdraw care proceedings was withdrawn. This case has demonstrated the vital need to check the sources of information that formed the foundation of decisions being made relating to child protection, so an assessment could be made about its reliability. The fact that a piece of information had been repeated many times did not enhance its reliability.

In relation to statements for court proceedings it was essential they were based on contemporaneous records, not recollections made some months later. Repeatedly in this case witnesses when confronted with the contemporaneous records had to revise the contents of their written statements. There was an obligation, particularly on public authorities who were seeking orders that interfered with Art  8, European Convention rights to family life, for a balanced picture to be presented, not just the negative information, or the facts cast only in a negative light.


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