It is very unusual for the Local Authority to submit an application to the Court for permission to withdraw from care proceedings.
In Re A (a child)  EWHC 517 (Fam) the Local Authority did submit an application to withdraw the care proceedings notwithstanding that the child concerned had suffered injuries which amounted to significant harm.
The child concerned had “both complex and demanding care needs” as a result of medical difficulties suffered from birth.
In January 2010 the child underwent a scan which showed several fractures. There was no explanation as to how the injuries had been sustained and therefore the diagnosis was that the injuries had been deliberately inflicted. Care proceedings were issued by the Local Authority. There was a possibility the injuries could be as a result of the child being handled by medical staff.
The child remained with the parents with supervision arrangements in place to monitor the child’s care and ensure the child’s welfare. Expert evidence was obtained and concluded that the child’s injuries had been caused by an episode or episodes of squeezing of the chest. This was accepted by all parties and no-one sought to suggest that the infliction of the injuries did not amount to significant harm.
The Court considered the commitment of the parents to the child was unquestioned and the general standard and effect of the care given by them was admirable. No alternative carers for the child were put forward by anyone. The Local Authority reduced the supervision of the parents care of the child and made an application to withdraw from the proceedings.
Mr Justice Hedley found that on the evidence it was not justifiable to exclude the possibility that the parents caused the injuries and concluded that the Local Authority should have established the threshold criteria required in care proceedings. The threshold criteria is test which must be satisfied before the Court can made a Care or Supervision order and is that the child is or is likely to suffer significant harm.
Therefore the Court had to determine the Local Authority’s application to withdraw the care proceedings on a welfare basis. Both the Local Authority and Child’s Guardian were of the view that the child’s welfare would be best served by his remaining in the care of his parents. Indeed Mr Justice Hedley said that “certainly one can be confident that, whatever may have happened in this case, these parents have never inflicted deliberate harm on this child.” The Judge considered that if the case had been pursued that it would result in the making of no order. The Judge therefore allowed the Local Authority to withdraw the care proceedings.
Claire Joyner is a paralegal in the Stephens Scown Family team dealing in all aspects of children work. Stephens Scown has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell. Its family lawyers advise clients on a wide range of family law including matrimonial and partner issues including separation, divorce and civil partnerships, family finance and child access.