When a child is made the subject of a Care Order to a Local Authority, the consequences of that include that the Local Authority share parental responsibility for that child with the parent(s), but that the Local Authority have ability to override the parental responsibility of the parent(s).

The parameters of the Local Authority’s ability to exercise parental responsibility is something that is under continuing development and examination by the Court.

There has been a recent significant development with regard to the Local Authority’s ability to authorise routine vaccinations for a child in their care.

In circumstances where the parents opposed a child being vaccinated, the Court decided that authorising vaccinations was not a “grave issue” and that it would come within the exercise of parental responsibility by a Local Authority under a Care Order.

The Court took the view that vaccinations were not medical treatment, but “a facet of public preventative healthcare”.

The likely consequences of this decision is that the number of applications to court concerning vaccinations are likely to fall. The Local Authority will still have to notify parents in advance about proposed vaccinations for their child. If one or both of the parents are opposed to the proposed vaccinations then it seems likely that the onus is now on them to make the application to Court in respect of routine vaccinations. The application would be for a declaration that it would be unlawful to vaccinate their child.

Whilst this recent case applies to the Local Authority exercising parental responsibility for a child in its care (under a Care Order), this development is likely to have implications for cases where the Local Authority are not involved and it is a dispute between parents where one wishes for the child to be vaccinated and the other does not. Given the Court considering in this case that vaccinations are “a facet of public preventative healthcare”, then for routine vaccinations that must strengthen the argument of the parent wishing for the child to be vaccinated and be of concern to the parent who is challenging whether the vaccination is really in the child’s best interests.