The ‘H’ Family share their experience of NAI care proceedings
The ‘H’ Family have kindly prepared the following piece after their proceedings concluded (I represented the mother).
In the May 2010 we took our 5 week old baby (we also had a 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter) to our GP’s after finding several purple marks on his thigh. We were worried that it was a serious medical condition, like Leukaemia, as there were no known reasons for the marks. Our GP also had serious concerns and referred us, that day, to a local hospital’s children’s ward for further tests. Our baby underwent routine blood clotting tests and tests for viral infections and was admitted overnight. The test results came back within the normal range and so we were told that this would be treated as a non-accidental injury investigation. We’d been told from the start that we may have to answer questions from Social Services but were relaxed at this thought as we knew that we’d done nothing wrong. We were baffled and confused but went along with the hospitals requests. Our baby had a retina scan, CT scan and full skeletal survey which revealed a suspected rib fracture and an emergency child protection meeting was held at the hospital to determine the next actions. We were dumbfounded and in floods of tears firstly at the suggestion that his marks could have been made intentionally and secondly that our son had a rib fracture, which neither of us had suspected.
After the paediatrician had told us about the rib fracture we then met with a Social Services team manager from our Local Authority who told us that we were not allowed to return home with our baby or our two other children and that we needed to find an alternative temporary home for our children with a member of our wider family. If we couldn’t find someone then we were told that all of our children would be placed in care. We were so blessed that one of our sets of parents lived 5 minutes away from us and we contacted them, whilst still in the hospital, to ask if they would be prepared to have all five of us move in, temporarily, and supervise our contact with our children. What had started as our grave concerns for our son’s health had now turned into a nightmare with the real prospect of us being separated from our children. The children’s grandparents agreed, without hesitation, for us to move in and we left hospital that evening with a police officer and our baby to join our children at their grandparent’s home. We all had to sign a working agreement which stated that under no circumstance were we allowed to be alone with any of our children and that the only people allowed to supervise us were the grandparents. On the second day of the investigation we were interviewed by the police, separately, and treated as witnesses. We were interviewed over two days and our statements were finalised on the third day. We told our older children that we were staying with their grandparents temporarily whilst we looked after our newest baby. It was a great relief that we have such a close family bond that the children accepted the arrangement, although as the weeks went on the older children showed emotional and physical reactions to being supervised with their parents 24/7.
Within a week of the investigation starting we had to take our older children to our GPs for a full medical examination to look for signs of abuse, which included their genitals for signs of sexual abuse. The rib fracture was also confirmed within a week and based on this news the Local Authority withdrew our right to live with the children and only allowed us to have supervised access with the children between the hours of 7am until 7:30pm, which meant that I (Mum) had to travel through the night to breastfeed our baby, on demand when our baby woke for a feed. In the evenings I (Mum) would often leave to return home and then be called back within 20 minutes to settle our baby. Most nights I would be travelling 3 times a night to breastfeed. Our middle child would also wake up disturbed wanting Mummy. The children’s grandparents were effectively seen as the primary carers whilst my husband and I were allowed supervised contact.
Within three weeks an Initial Child Protection Conference was held where due to the lack of evidence to prove that the injuries were either medical or accidental there was a majority vote to put all three children on a Child Protection Plan, meaning that they were now on the ‘At risk’ register. At around the same time the children’s grandparents were officially classed as the children’s foster carers. Our middle child’s eczema got gradually worse and our eldest child started to show anxiety and behavioural problems – although the school were amazingly supportive.
Just before 4 weeks into the investigation both of us (Mum and Dad) were arrested at 7am in the morning under suspicion of causing GBH with intent. We were interviewed on and off until 10:30pm that night. We were bailed to return a fortnight later. One month after we had taken our baby to hospital the Local Authority issued an application for an Interim Care Order and we were called to attend family court. At the first hearing (six weeks after the initial marks) we found out that a parallel application had been put forward to have the children adopted, and again we were dumbfounded and devastated. The nightmare that we had found ourselves in just seemed to get worse and worse. At times we felt like we couldn’t breathe under the weight of the emotions of thinking that we might ultimately lose our children. However, we hung on to the knowledge that we knew the truth and most of the time we ploughed our energy into protecting the family that we still had and were determined to not let the children be effected by what was happening around them.
When our baby was 13 weeks old we found another mark on our baby’s leg, whilst the strict supervision arrangements were still in place. After referral to hospital it was agreed it was a pressure mark, due to our baby resting on his grandfather’s belt buckle. We knew that this was unusual as neither of our other children had marked in the same way. A number of GP’s at our local practice had also commented about how our baby marked unusually. At our second court hearing, medical experts were appointed to discuss probable reasons for the marks and fractures and it was agreed that I (Mum) could sleep at the grandparent’s home so that our baby could be fed more easily through the night. The children’s father was still not allowed to sleep in the same house. After over 10 weeks we were allowed additional supervisors which relieved the pressure from the children’s grandparents and meant that we could do more normal activities with friends, whilst still being supervised. At our bail appointment in August 2010 we were told by the Police that the CPS would be taking no further action due to insufficient evidence.
Despite the police dropping our case, the Local Authority continued to complete assessments and pursue care proceedings. All the medical reports were returned and we were back in court in November 2010. We had submitted a number of scenarios which could have caused the marks or the fractures but these were pretty much rejected in both medical reports and both experts concluded that the injuries were most likely to be non-accidental in nature. We couldn’t believe it. We had continued to have hope in our hearts that the experts would spot the anomalies in the way that our baby’s skin marked and that they would also accept one of our strongest suggestions as to how he’d sustained a rib fracture. Everything in our eyes pointed to this one event as our baby had shown many of the signs highlighted by the paediatrician as being indicative of a rib fracture. Both experts accepted this explanation, in part, but there was still enough doubt for them to conclude that the injuries were most likely non-accidental.
After more debate with the medical experts and more meetings with the Local Authority we were back in court in December 2010. We’d resubmitted our account of the ‘sling incident’ and provided video re-enactment footage and two days prior to the hearing, the Radiologist’s report seemed to agree mostly with our account that this could have caused the rib fractures. However, the Paediatrician’s report was still inconclusive and the issue of the markings had still not been addressed and the day before the hearing our solicitors were very clear to suggest that it looked likely that our case would progress to a full finding of fact hearing and that we should be prepared for this to be in April 2011.
We were starting to lose hope but still couldn’t let go of the nagging feeling that the truth would prevail. At the hearing in December 2010, we were in court all day and things were hotly debated between the Local Authority and our two legal teams. By the end of the day, the Local Authority had accepted our explanation for the rib fractures and despite not agreeing that our baby had a tendency to mark agreed that we could return home, the following week, with our children. They also removed the supervision arrangements from us that day and for the first time in 7 months we could be alone with our children – we were overwhelmed with happiness and celebrations and the friends we had outside court supporting us were all whooping and punching the air with victorious cries. Care proceedings were finally dropped in February 2011 when the Local Authority removed their application and were confident that, through continuing to monitor the family, there was no significant risk of harm to the children. There was no resounding admission that they’d got it wrong but we were home and we were rebuilding our lives. As we were still keen to find out the reasons for our baby’s marks we paid privately to see a Consultant Dermatologist at Great Ormond Street hospital after the proceedings had concluded who, through reviewing the medical notes and the police photographs of our baby’s marks, concluded that those marks were ‘extremely unlikely’ to have been bruises and that our baby did mark incredibly easily. He’d confirmed the truth that we’d always known and, reassuringly he had also said that he didn’t feel that there were any significant medical problems for the future.