A matter which stimulates several strands of debate within family law surrounds the question of how an appropriate balance is to be struck between protecting children from abuse, and avoiding inappropriate interference by the state in the private lives of individuals. This chapter explores some of the arguments surrounding various approaches which could be taken to child protection within a society. English law adopts what is termed a ‘liberal standard’, whereby children are initially placed in the care of their parent(s) and the state only has power to intervene compulsorily to take over a child’s care on passing a threshold for intervention. Such an approach raises difficult questions as to the point at which the threshold is to be set, and how it is expressed and interpreted. In English law, the threshold criteria, as they are known, are contained in section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989, a provision which has thrown up many complex, controversial issues and stimulated much difficult case-law. The chapter examines in detail the difficulties and debates this version of the liberal standard and its interpretation in the case-law has provoked.
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