A Peterborough family has won a High Court legal battle against Peterborough City Council after the local authority unlawfully put their seven-year-old daughter under a child protection plan when there was no evidence of neglect.
The young girl, who has autism and cannot be named, stopped eating and drinking due to sensory issues a few years ago and a naso-gastric tube was fitted to feed her. In the following years a dispute developed between her parents and the medical team at Peterborough City Hospital about how best to treat her.
The clinicians wanted the girl to go to a residential assessment centre called The Croft for several weeks, but her parents disagreed and wanted to seek a second medical opinion. Subsequently, the child’s clinical team made a referral to social services and the Local Authority placed the child under child protection with a category of ‘neglect’ in March 2015, even though its own assessment in July 2014 had concluded that the home education she was receiving was excellent and that her mother provided “a great deal of emotional warmth” towards her daughter.
The child protection plan did not assist the child in accessing medical treatment and a impasse developed whereby the child had no treating team in place, and was taken to the hospital on a monthly basis for distressing changes to her naso-gastric tube.
Her parents instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help resolve their issues and the law firm brought a Judicial Review at the High Court in June this year on behalf of the family against Peterborough City Council where the decision to place her under child protection was challenged.
The Judge confirmed in his judgment that it was unlawful to have placed the child on a child protection plan and there was no evidence of neglect. The decision to place her on a Child Protection plan was therefore quashed.
The two sides also resolved their issues regarding the medical treatment by arranging mediation, and it was agreed that the girl did not have to go to The Croft residential care centre but that she could receive treatment preferred by her parents and provided by Addenbrookes Hospital.
Following the High Court Judgment the child’s mother said: “We are so relieved that we have been able to resolve all of the issues that were preventing our little girl from having access to medical treatment. We felt insulted and powerless when she was placed under child protection because of some apparent neglect.
“We just wanted what was in the best interests of our child and wanted to work with doctors and social services to achieve that. We had been trying for a very long period to progress her medical treatment by seeking second opinions, but unfortunately we could not get very far with this because she no longer had any treating team in place. We therefore felt we had no choice but to take legal action.
“We are relieved that the High Court has found there was no evidence of neglect and has quashed the child protection decision, and made a declaration that the decision was null and void. We are also thrilled that through mediation we were able to obtain for our daughter the treatment we had always thought was in her best interests. We can now concentrate on ensuring that our daughter continues to get the treatment she needs.”
Caroline Barrett, a specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the family said: “There are legal mechanisms which hospitals and councils can use to try and resolve disputes over a child’s best interests, and what medical treatment they should receive. It was not appropriate in this case for our client to have been placed on a child protection plan and for her family to have been accused of ‘neglect’.
“This led to a situation where there was a complete impasse in providing care to her, and she remained without medical treatment for over a year. Naturally our client is delighted that the High Court has confirmed that the decision taken by the Council was unlawful, and that this never should have happened.
“Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident and as a firm we have seen other cases in the past where local authorities have placed disabled children on child protection plans instead of meeting their needs as a disabled “child in need”.
“Although this latest judgment is obviously specific to the facts of this particular case, this judgment should hopefully provide a warning to other local authorities to ensure they work with families, consider the purpose of the child protection measures, and lawfully apply the relevant guidance, when making these decisions in future.”
A council spokesman said decisions are made as the result of complex multi-agency discussions involving, for example, health services and the police and to add further scrutiny all decisions are overseen by an independent chair.