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A County Council v A Mother and A Father and X, Y and Z [2005] EWHC 31 (Fam)

A hearing to make findings of fact in relation to care proceedings in respect of three children, one of whom was the victim of a criminal charge of child cruelty faced by the mother.

Family Division: Ryder J

(18 January 2005)

Summary

A hearing to make findings of fact in relation to care proceedings in respect of three children, one of whom was the victim of a criminal charge of child cruelty faced by the mother.

Background

These proceedings relate to formal applications by the local authority, A County Council, for care orders in relation to each of three children: X, aged 15, who lives with his mother; and Y, a boy aged 10, and Z, a girl aged 8, who live with their father (who is not the natural father of X). The mother and father were married in June 1995, separated in September 1999 at which time all three children remained in the care of the mother with extensive contact with, and the significant involvement of, the father, and were finally divorced in February 2004.

This was a split hearing, to make findings of fact that would be taken into account in any necessary assessments and reports relating to the welfare of the children; the welfare decisions relating to the children would be made at a hearing later in the year.

The father had indicated his intention to care for all three children on a permanent basis and to apply for residence orders if appropriate. The mother wished to resume the care of all three of her children or, alternatively, to exercise the least restrictive contact as may be commensurate with their welfare and placement. Furthermore, the mother faced a criminal trial on a charge of child cruelty relating to Z, to be listed after the conclusion of this hearing.

The judge reviewed in exhaustive detail the allegations made by the local authority regarding the mother's treatment of Z, namely: that Z was a normal, healthy child; that the mother had fabricated, falsified or tampered with evidence of apparent medical conditions displayed by Z, particularly diabetes; that, in all the circumstances of the case and on the balance of probabilities, Z was the subject of 'fabricated or induced illness' (FII), also known as 'Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy' (MSBP); and that the children Y and X were at risk of receiving the same care and treatment as Z.

Findings

The judge made findings of fact in relation to the above allegations, and offered some general observations arising from the case.

In particular, the real issue in the case was the management of a mother who wanted health care support and assistance, and arguably social and educational care and assistance, and felt that she was unable to obtain it without resorting to dramatic effect.

Also, the label MSBP should be consigned to the history books and, however useful FII may apparently be to the child protection practitioner, it should only be used as a factual description of a series of incidents or behaviours that should then be accurately set out (and even then only in the hands of the paediatrician or psychiatrist/psychologist).

Ultimately, the welfare of the child could not be deduced from any one sole professional perspective: welfare is not just medical best interests nor is it restricted to education or social care. It is a multi-faceted concept. This case should have been managed from at least 1999 by multi-disciplinary strategy meetings to which the parents should have been invited.

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