Law: Child Protection
Legislation: Children Act 1989 s.31(9)
9. In this section –
“Harm” means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development, including, for example,
impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another;
– “Development” means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development;
– “Health” means physical or mental health; and
– “Ill-treatment” includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical.
Legislation: Children Act 1989 s31(10)
10. Where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the child’s health or
development, his health or development shall be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of
a similar child.
***Re L  1 FLR 2050
The mother had severe learning difficulties, and was represented in the proceedings by the Official Solicitor.
The father had partial, not global learning difficulties, but his ability to function in every day life was affected.
He did not require a litigation friend, but he was unable to read the papers in the proceedings and was
unable to understand them unless they were explained to him. The local authority had provided the parents
with considerable assistance over a number of years through the Adult Learning Disability Team. The
Children and Families Team were first involved when the family reported a sexual assault on the elder child
by a man whom the father had allowed to stay in the family home notwithstanding that the father knew him
to be a Sch 1 offender. However, the family fully co-operated in the investigation, and the local authority did
not remove the two children, effectively closing the file the following year on the basis that the children
were now adequately protected. Fresh concerns developed because the mother had suffered significant
physical injuries on a number of occasions, attributed to domestic violence by the father. The authority
began a core assessment which was never completed because, following an allegation made by a pupil at the
children's school that the father had been seen whipping the children with a belt, the children were removed
from the family home under an emergency protection order. The children were placed with foster parents,
with whom they progressed well. At the hearing the judge held that, although it was unlikely that the
children had been whipped, the threshold criteria had been established, basing his conclusion on the
evidence and opinions of the expert witness. The Court of Appeal directed a retrial because of concerns
about the expert evidence (Re L (Care Proceedings: Significant Harm  EWCA Civ 1282,  1 FLR
1068). At the retrial, the local authority sought care orders, relying upon the impact of alleged domestic
violence on the children, on the behaviour of the children and the general family dynamics during contact,
and on significant improvements experienced by the children at school since their removal. It was
acknowledged that both parents had had positive and loving relationships with the children, now aged 10
Held: care application dismissed
– 1. The judgment would be given in public because the case raised real difficulties in the not
altogether uncommon circumstances in which parents had learning disabilities, and were in many
ways inadequate but not malicious and in which children were adversely affected by the experiences
that flowed from this. The current legal starting point was that children were best brought up within
natural families: it followed that society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of
parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent, and that some children
would experience disadvantage and harm, while others would flourish in atmospheres of loving
security and emotional stability. It was not the provenance of the state to spare children all the
consequences of defective parenting; the compulsive powers of the state could only be exercised
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