Non-Accidental Injury – everything you need to know

A “Non-accidental injury” is a term is used to describe physical injuries, or signs of abuse to a child. These injuries are often identified when a parent or guardian takes the child to a doctor for treatment and they are unable to explain how the injury occurred, or their explanation may be inadequate.

A non-accidental injury can be distinguished from an accidental injury because when a child is accidentally injured, this is unexpected and unintentional. A non-accidental injury therefore involves an element of wrongdoing, either because there was a lack of care from the parent or caregiver which may amount to negligence, recklessness, or a deliberate infliction.

As a parent or guardian, it can be an extremely stressful and worrying time to be told that, from a clinical perspective, your child has suffered a non-accidental injury. Such a diagnosis invariably leads to a referral to social services, and you will be asked to provide your account of the injury to assist with the enquiries of the social worker. You may also be asked to consent to your child / children being placed with a family member, or in foster care whilst investigations are carried out. If this happens, it is very important that you seek independent advice as soon as possible.

The Children Act 1989 defines the concept of “significant harm” as being the threshold which justifies the state intervening in your family life when it is in the best interests of the child. Significant harm is defined as being “ill-treatment, or the impairment of health or development”.

In certain circumstances, and where parents do not consent to the child being placed voluntarily, the local authority will issue an application for an interim care order and seek authorisation from the Court to remove the child / children from your care. Often you can find yourself in court very quickly; even before the child is discharged from hospital. We understand this process and are well positioned to provide you with expert advice and representation in Court. Family proceedings and criminal investigations / proceedings will often run alongside each other, and therefore you will have a separate solicitor representing you in the criminal and family proceedings.

Family proceedings where non accidental injuries are identified are often very complex and the court will want to obtain all relevant information before a decision can be made at a contested hearing. Independent expert opinion is often crucial in explaining what has happened to a child. Sometimes there may be an underlying medical cause, or susceptibility- such as inherited disorders or vitamin deficiencies, which may account for the injuries identified. It is extremely important, from the point of view of the parents, that they receive comprehensive legal advice so that all possible explanations can be considered, and any relevant expert evidence obtained.

Once all the evidence is available, the Court will determine the cause of the injury, on the balance of probabilities, and whether they were accidental or inflicted (non-accidental) in nature. In cases where inflicted injuries are found, the Court will consider whether a perpetrator can be identified.

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If you need any advice related to the issues mentioned here, please contact our expert team who will be happy to help.