When I was a little girl and things went wrong, one of my Dad’s favourite phrases was to reassure us was, “ Worse things happen at sea!” . My sister and I used to think of things that would be worse than anything that could happen at sea. For me it was always the thought of being falsely accused of something you didn’t do and going to prison when you were innocent. As a parent I think that now I would say that the worst thing would be not being able to protect my children from harm, from someone was hurting them or abusing them.
Children have a right to be safe, to be taken care of. They are vulnerable and society agrees they need protection from harm. Even the thought of child abuse fills us with horror- neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse. I can’t imagine how anyone could harm a child, why anyone would . We must protect our children. All agencies involving work with children have safeguarding policies and procedures. Many have training to spot the signs, and DBS checks required to make sure staff are not a risk to children and young people. No one would question that these are necessary so that we can send our children to school, to clubs in good faith that these are safe places for them. Staff there will also look out for children who need protecting from abuse.
Child Protection is not straight forward though. There have been some high profile cases where abused children haven’t been protected, and there are high profile cases where parents have been accused, even convicted and later exonerated. We’ve read about them, seen the news reports. As a mother I cry when I read or see cases of either, both are due to errors, and both have devastating consequences for the children and families involved. The social workers get bad press – damned if they act too quickly, and equally damned if they don’t.
Are social workers responsible for these errors ? They are working within a team, with managers, with other professionals from other agencies – duty bound to follow policies. Together they make a judgment based on their investigations, on advice, and the. evidence presented. Where there is risk of significant harm they recommend Child Protection Conferences, and potentially Child protection cases can go to trial. How do they know that the child is at risk of abuse, or experiencing abuse? Quite often these cases rely on the evidence of expert witnesses They may provide evidence in good faith, But witnesses who are as expert as their expertise allows, and later it is proven that factors and conditions unknown at the time, provide an explanation.
I was a teacher. It was a part of my job to look out for the children entrusted into my care and I did for 11 years. Both before and since leaving teaching I have volunteered and worked with children and young people in lots of ways, running a school choir, teaching sewing, running a PTA at my children’s school, in all 25 years of working with children and young people. I love my three children, and my work fits around them and their needs as unfortunately they have some diagnosed health difficulties and dyslexia/SEN – health appointments, meetings at schools to discuss their needs, and lots and lots of time supporting them and encouraging them to do things that help them stay well. It has been so hard watching their health decline, seeing them no longer unable to participate in activities they once enjoyed, the activities we probably took for granted.
Imagine my shock when I realised that I was being accused of abusing my children of Fabricating and Inducing their illnesses, previously known as Munchausen by Proxy. After an incomplete investigation ,with some serious errors, a child protection conference was called. A safeguarding doctor apparently confused my notes with another woman, describing me as a radiographer, and there was also an inaccurate of description of our situation – that I. was home educating my children to isolate them. I have never been a radiographer, nor claimed to be and my children were all on roll at schools unable to attend due to diagnosed SEN and health conditions – one with LEA medical needs tutors and one awaiting a meeting with school and Sendiass to arrange a support plan for him to safely attend school.
My accusation of Fii came from school, not from health professionals. Long before social services were involved a head teacher withdrew support from my poorly little boy, accusing me for FII and apparently acting as if it was a given fact that the doctors were wrong and she was right. Our GP, the boys specialist consultants were consulted and none of them agreed this was FII. Only a school nurse and a community paediatrician who had only ever examined one of my children wondered if I might be guilty.
How on earth did it happen? Over a year since the accusation was first apparent, I am still confused, and now having thought and thought about it I am more than confused. I am angry – angry and heartbroken for the effects on my children, on my whole family. Having children who struggle with on going SEN and health conditions is hard. Being accused of abuse is horrific. My children’s medical notes flag up potential FII. Potentially that could mean that my already ill children might not get the treatment they need. Any parent can tell you that children are not always forthcoming in doctors appointments and might need prompting or even they will look at their mum and expect her to take over – especially when they are ill!
A chance comment on facebook advice group for SEN children led to me being given the name and phone number of a volunteer working to support mothers falsely accused of FII, and reassurance that she was willing to speak with me, so I rang her there and then, 10pm on a Saturday night. The conversation lasted until around 4am . A woman I had never met, listening to me and advising me on how to prepare for my CP conference. Why did she care so much that she would volunteer to help mothers like me? Because she is a mother like me, accused of harming her little girl with tragic conseuences. I learned so much that night, and have learned more since, not only from her but from a growing number of women who have been accused, and most weeks I hear from mothers have just been accused , women now asking me for advice
What do we have in common? There seems to be a growing trend of apportioning blame for two main groups of women who are being accused of FII -The mothers of children with unfamiliar genetic conditions, such as EDS. Some of these accusations originate from medical professionals but also from schools . Increasingly there is now a rising number of mothers of children with SEN or other conditions, such as ADHD, and ASD who struggle with attendance at school -the school refuser, school phobic children, where the majority of FII accusations are made by educational professionals. A large proportion of these mothers also report having ADHD or being on the Autistic Spectrum. Are they abusing their children, or are professionals missing some vital information, falling to understand the complex nature of the actual difficulties their families face and potentially causing more harm?
Have you met a mother with ASD, or ADHD? With girls still being less likely to be diagnosed by doctors, or noticed to be struggling at school than boys, these mothers may communicate with professionals in a manner that could be misinterpreted. I was accused of exaggerating my son’s ADHD. I have ADHD. I talk a lot, sometimes I get carried away and over share information. I also fire off emails asking for the support my children need, and apparently one of the criteria of mothers who FII is that they complain. Do you know who else complains ? Innocent people – people who genuinely feel that the services they are complaining about are not good enough, and people who have a strong sense of justice, people who are accused of doing something they haven’t done. I still have that fear of injustice, of being found guilty of a crime I didn’t commit, and I will complain when things aren’t right . Firing off emails apparently annoys the recipients -especially when I am asking them to follow policies and remind them that they aren’t. I know that now, but when everything else has failed – meetings, requests for meeting with SENDias present, and my day is over, the children are in bed, and my ADHD meds have worn off, an email to beg for support, or to try to defend myself, or increasingly to complain seems like a good idea.
I am left confused. How did this happen to us? What if some of the very people who are DBS checked, and are working to protect children have caused harm to my children and our family -professionals I asked for specific help for my already diagnosed children, for the support they needed to be able to attend school and stay well. Professionals who should have been doing that anyway. At our child protection conference included , it seems that some of the NHS professionals missed the evidence of specialist consultants, with more expertise than them, as to why my children are unwell, Representatives of schools who reused to accept diagnoses and advice from consultants and from an LEA Ed Psych and were actively trying to overturn these diagnoses. These professionals got to vote on my parenting and the risk I posed to my children out of 10 -they might as well have been given the Strictly judges type cards to hold up. Who votes on their ability to follow policies and accurately investigate? Who checks up on their investigation and votes on the possibility of systematic abuse of children by not supporting their needs within schools, with long waiting times for medical treatment, adding to their health decline? No one. Not social services, not the complaint managers or the governors or anyone. They admit there are problems, but so often a complaint isn’t within their remit to do anything. Who would even believe my word, now that the doubts exist. Who even asks, what if we have made a big mistake? The Child Protection conference voted that my children were not at risk of significant harm, but even so, the FII investigation hasn’t yet concluded, despite me not meeting most of the criteria for FII .
Due to my experiences and the other women I talk with, I am now wondering if FII is the new Cleveland, the new shaken baby, the new sudden infant death syndromes. Innocent women and their children are subject to procedures that cause them further harm. Vulnerable families who love their children, who care for their children having their parental rights questioned, or even taken way – being removed from discussions regarding treatment and potentially future diagnoses. How many hundreds of thousands of pounds must these agencies be spending, digging and digging to find evidence? Evidence easily explained, if anyone cared enough to look. Money that could have been spent supporting, meeting their needs. Schools are under funded and the needs of many children with SEN are not being met, health specialists have long waiting lists, and often a round robin practice of passing patients from consultant to consultant for diagnosis and therefore years before any treatment. Add to this that social workers and their managers may be unfamiliar with the workings of health and education. Its so much easier to blame mothers than admit there are institutional failures and that policies aren’t being followed, and that agencies are not actually working together . Many of the policies are good, but they are not funded or trained to follow them. The system is not working.
In our case and many others this is not FII. This is professionals disputing other professional’s diagnoses, or even professionals making judgements without the necessary expertise. This is refereed to as working out of remit and has very serious implications . For those who are employed directly with these children could even be deemed as abuse – neglect.
Whilst these proceedings continue, children don’t get the treatment and support they need and their conditions may even deteriorate . Having a child with SEN and health problems can be very difficult but add Fii investigations and the repercussions into the mix and children and their whole families are under even more stress than they faced to begin with. Wouldn’t the time, effort and resources invested in this be put to better use for supporting rather than condemning, and of course to investigate quickly, close cases and move onto protecting children who are in genuine need of protection.
Whichever way you look at it, this is contributing to child abuse, not solving it. At our case conference a Social Services manager said, “Either this mother is harming her children, or there are agencies in this room who have let her and her children down”. I can’t argue with that. I feel that the agencies who refuse to support children and families such as ours have failed to understand how pernicious accusations of fabricated and induced illness actually are, and by not supporting children with medical conditions, and Special Educational needs, the could actually be causing harm.
It seems I was right. Being falsely accused is horrible, not being able to protect my children is even worse, and when two happen at the same time it is horrendous . The worst things don’t just happen at sea.