When a young child is taken to hospital with a serious injury, one would expect social workers and medical professionals to conduct a careful inquiry. As a Family Court ruling underlined, however, it is for judges to make the final decision as to whether an injury has been inflicted and, if so, by whom.
The case concerned a little boy who was taken to hospital by his mother when he was three weeks old. A CT scan revealed that he had sustained a fractured skull. He thankfully made a good recovery and was returned to his mother’s care under supervision by other members of the family.
The local authority ultimately launched proceedings, seeking a judicial determination as to how the injury occurred. In reliance on expert medical evidence, it contended that the skull fracture arose either from a blow with a blunt object or when his head struck a hard surface. The injury, the council asserted, was either inflicted and non-accidental or was caused by an accident that his parents had failed to report.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the young mother had no substance abuse issues and kept her home immaculately. She did not live with the child’s father but he was present in the house when the injury probably occurred. Their relationship was a supportive one and there were, in short, none of the risk factors often to be found where injuries are inflicted upon children.
The mother stated that she had briefly left the room where the boy was in his bouncy chair to sterilise some feeding bottles. After hearing a noise, she had returned to find that his two-year-old brother had removed him from his chair to a footstool where he was attempting to put a bottle in his mouth. After checking him over, she felt a bump on his head and swiftly took him to hospital.
She remained firm in her account under cross-examination and the Court found that it was credible. The father’s evidence was also very frank. Neither parent was very sophisticated and it would have been hard for them to consistently maintain a lie throughout the investigation.
The Court found it very unlikely that one of the caring, loving parents would have lost control so seriously as to have deliberately injured their baby. There was no evidence that they had recklessly or carelessly put him at risk of harm. Overall, the council had failed to establish that the boy’s injury was inflicted, by either his mother or his father, or that it arose from a witnessed accident that they failed to disclose.