What the Hell Happened to England?

After reading this article I can only assume that there is something seriously wrong with the mental faculties of just about everyone in England.

A pregnant woman has been told that her baby will be taken from her at birth because she is deemed capable of “emotional abuse”, even though psychiatrists treating her say there is no evidence to suggest that she will harm her child in any way.

Social services’ recommendation that the baby should be taken from Fran Lyon, a 22-year-old charity worker who has five A-levels and a degree in neuroscience, was based in part on a letter from a paediatrician she has never met. Hexham children’s services, part of Northumberland County Council, said the decision had been made because Miss Lyon was likely to suffer from Munchhausen’s Syndrome by proxy, a condition unproven by science in which a mother will make up an illness in her child, or harm it, to draw attention to herself.

Under the plan, a doctor will hand the newborn to a social worker, provided there are no medical complications. Social services’ request for an emergency protection order – these are usually granted – will be heard in secret in the family court at Hexham magistrates on the same day.

From then on, anyone discussing the case, including Miss Lyon, will be deemed to be in contempt of the court.

Let me see a 22 year old social worker armed only with academic credentials and scant evidence has decided to take another woman’s baby. Somebody please tell me that there is more to this story that has been left out of the article?

The case adds to growing concern, highlighted in a series of articles in The Sunday Telegraph, over a huge rise in the number of babies under a year old being taken from parents. The figure was 2,000 last year, three times the number 10 years ago. Critics say councils are taking more babies from parents to help them meet adoption “targets”.

What? They are taking babies from parents to help meet adoption targets? Uhhhmmm, but that sounds very much like trafficking in children, just a notch above paedophiles, IMO. This is just sickening.

Via Debunkers.

UPDATE (James Joyner): Jonathan Gornall, a journalist for the liberal Guardian, says this story represents “another broadside in the propaganda war being waged against the nation’s child-protection system by the right wing press.”

The Daily Mail’s coverage, while based on some facts, is also provocative — it suggests the issue boils down to “Whose baby is it anyway?”.
Both papers have been running stories for some weeks now in support of MP John Hemming’s campaign to portray social workers as “legal baby-snatchers”.

Normally, issues of confidentiality mean that the validity of such stories cannot be tested, but thanks to unique circumstances — Lyon herself has offered confidential details and documents relating to her case to journalists — the published “truths” of this case can be examined in some detail.

[…]

The Sunday Telegraph led readers to believe that “Miss Lyon came under scrutiny because she had a mental health problem when she was 16 after being physically and emotionally abused by her father and raped by a stranger”. But this was not the trigger for concerns. There had been, Lyon told me, “a difficult incident with my ex where I needed to call the police and the police put a report through to social services because I was pregnant”.

So far, then, so fully in line with every government edict issued in the wake of the Victoria Climbié Report, including the Children Act 2004, that “places a statutory duty on key people and bodies to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children”. In notifying social services, the police were doing no more than their statutory duty — and, post-Laming, God help them if they hadn’t.

Next, it was the turn of social workers to do their duty. Lyon was invited to an initial interview at which, she says, the focus was on her former partner. She says she was then asked to attend a second interview with her mother and that this was “focused on my childhood and my previous mental health issues”.

Lyon, who works for Borderline UK, helping people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, is frank about her own personal history.
She explains that, by 13 or 14, she was “already seriously anorexic” and “was being quite seriously abused”.

By her own account, she was raped by an acquaintance while working as a volunteer in a charity shop and her behaviour became increasingly self-destructive. In addition to her difficulties with eating, she began self-harming by cutting her arms.

To complicate matters further, Lyon says that since the age of 11 she has suffered from angioedema (swelling of the skin) and for the past two years has been fitted with a permanent tracheostomy tube to help her breathe.

At 15, Lyon says she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and admitted to the Cassel Hospital in Richmond, south London, where she spent a year as an in-patient, followed by nine months as an out-patient. The diagnosis was finally removed when she was 18.

So, the social worker’s concerns were hardly unfounded. On the other hand, the only psychiatrist apparently involved recommended Lyon be allowed to keep her child.

Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, told the Sunday Telegraph that in reaching the decision to intervene when Lyon’s baby was born, social services ignored “evidence from professionals treating her, that she would have no problems”.

But, according to Lyon, her last contact with a psychiatrist as a patient was four years ago. After her second interview with social services, however, Lyon contacted Dr Stella Newrith, the last psychiatrist to have treated her, and asked her to write a letter in support. This Dr Newrith did, on Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust headed paper. “On the basis of my clinical observations,” wrote Dr Newrith, “I consider the risk of harm to a child to be so unlikely as to be negligible. There has never been any clinical evidence to suggest that Fran would put herself or others at risk, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that she would put a child at risk of emotional, physical or sexual harm.”

[…]

This is, of course, a sad and difficult case and no one could blame Lyon for taking the action she has. All she wants is to be able to keep her baby when it is born. Similarly, however, the professionals involved — social workers, doctors and the police — should not be castigated for carrying out their statutory duties.

To her credit, and despite the heavy-handed rhetoric of the Sunday Telegraph and Hemming, Lyon appears to share that view. “I don’t believe anybody is in this to cause harm,” she told me. Indeed, she says she has sympathy with the social workers in her case, who “are in an awful situation with an incredibly difficult call to make. All I’m asking is that I’m given a chance to assuage their concerns and fears. Hopefully that isn’t too unreasonable.”

Of course it isn’t. What is unreasonable, however, is that yet again a delicate human story has been hijacked and misrepresented in the name of a vociferous campaign to undermine public confidence in the child protection system.

The government actions here still strike me as extreme, starting from the presumption that the mother should have to prove she’s fit to keep the child rather than vice-versa. Still, it’s not the totally out of the blue outrage presented by the Telegraph.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Government, Health, World Politics, , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. davod says:

    There is another case where the parents are borderline mentally challenged. The social workers want to take the children away even though there is no indication the children have been harmed while in the couples care. The family court records are `sealed. I do not think participants are privy to what is in the records. If you cannot see the records how can you fight the charges.

    The UK has been going down hill for some time. This just just has a really bad taste.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Let me see a 22 year old social worker armed only with academic credentials and scant evidence has decided to take another woman’s baby.

    The 22 year old woman is the person whose baby is being taken away. The grounds for removal come from suggestions provided by doctors to social services.

    Still seems somewhat outrageous, mind you. But the recommendation does appear to come from doctors, rather than social workers.

  3. Anthony C says:

    Yes, I saw this. It’s strange and worrying.

    I haven’t a clear explanation for it (save for the fact that the bureaucracies under which we live over here are going increasingly off the rails) but it’s possible that this is actually a reaction to the fact that social services in the UK have come under a hell of a lot of criticism in the past few years for precisely the opposite to the sort of thing detailed in this article – failures to intervene that have ended up with a dead child in cases where in retrospect it has seemed fairly clear that the child was in serious danger. Although one wouldn’t know from this case, the priority over here has always been to keep the family together if at all possible – if anything the criticism has been based around inaction, not scary child-harvesting.

    So it might be that they’re suddenly swinging in the opposite direction.

  4. kb says:

    Let me see a 22 year old social worker armed only with academic credentials and scant evidence has decided to take another woman’s baby. Somebody please tell me that there is more to this story that has been left out of the article.

    Actually it’s the mother who’s the 22 year old….

    The trouble is that after a few high profile cases in which the social services where crucified after havng left children with their parents who ended up killing them i suspect there’s an ‘err on the side of caution’ mentality developed.

    There’s another view of the issue at

    http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2007/09/20/105839/fran-lyon-case-the-hidden-agendas.html
    albeit from the social services side.

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    Still seems somewhat outrageous, mind you. But the recommendation does appear to come from doctors, rather than social workers.

    Yes, but a doctor that hasn’t met her, examined her, or even made it to the hearing. Stikes me as a bit more than a little disturbing.

  6. anjin-san says:

    Well I guess there is no stupidity-incompetence-corruption-whatever in our own CPS here in America. By all means lets focus on what is wrong in other countries and avoid taking a look at if we have our own house in order…

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    kb

    From your link.

    Similarly, however, the professionals involved — social workers, doctors and the police — should not be castigated for carrying out their statutory duties.

    Yeah, after all they are just following orders right? And we all know that is a perfect defense against disgusting behavior.

    Overall, I found your link somewhat helpful, but it still paints a rather disappointing picture. These kinds of things shoudn’t be secret. Secrecy in these kind of things allows for abuse.

    Anjin-san,

    I am not aware of a possible perversion of a policy here in the U.S. that advocates taking away babies to meet adoption goals. Of course if you have such evidence feel free to post a link to it.

  8. Steven L. says:

    I read a bit on this when it first hit the news.

    It is apparently standard for there to be a “gag” order that does not allow the parents to speak about the proceedings — standard and put into place a priori. That, frankly, is the most disturbing part — how can the parents bring any pressure to bear in the case of a bad decision if they cannot take their case to the public?

  9. anjin-san says:

    I am not aware of a possible perversion of a policy here in the U.S. that advocates taking away babies to meet adoption goals. Of course if you have such evidence feel free to post a link to it.

    Steve,

    Your comment has absolutely nothing to do with my post. I did not mention adoption goals.

    My point is there has been a recent spate of postings on OTB about problems with social services in England.

    I suggest we let the Brits worry about their own problems and take a hard look at how we are doing right here at home. The right in this country is very good at pointing fingers overseas, an not very good at looking in the mirror.

    Instead of resorting to misdirection, why not address the issue. If you think I am full of it, make your argument with a valid reply to my post…

  10. Bithead says:

    yes, by all means, let’s avoid using England as an example of what not to do, particularly because the left is trying to push this in that direction. Pointing out the experiences of England would be the kiss of death to those policies being adopted in America. I can understand how leftists here in America wouldn’t like that, at all.

    Is this what they mean by transparency?

  11. anjin-san says:

    yes, by all means, let’s avoid using England as an example of what not to do, particularly because the left is trying to push this in that direction.

    So Bit, what is your plan for making social policy in America? See what the English do, then do the opposite?

    I would think we are intelligent enough to look at the strengths and weaknesses of our own policies, and then act on that analysis, without worrying about what our friends across the Atlantic are up to. But why do that when we can engage in a little fear-mongering on the evils of socialized medicine? Yep, no child has ever been unjustly taken from it’s parents here in tbe good-old USA! No sir.

    The original post might have a bit more credibility if Steve had read the original story carefully enough to know that the 22 year in question actually was…

  12. Beldar says:

    Now see, this — not how long you have to stand in line or whether you take your shoes off for airport security — is the kind of thing you should be worried about in terms of civilized western nations losing liberty. And it has nothing to do with 9/11.

  13. JohnG says:

    How bout look at what the English are doing, see how it’s totally messed up, and then not doing it? Doing nothing is preferable to doing something just to “do something” and then ending up in a worse situation.

  14. John Burgess says:

    Anjinsan: About 80% of what British society/bureaucracy is up to is worthy of doing the exact opposite. Between nannying and totalitarian attempts at social control, the UK is off the rails.

    A few things–maybe like the Official Secrets Act–are worthy of emulation. And maybe legal protection of sex workers.

  15. davod says:

    John Burgess:

    You might get legal protection for sex workers through here, only if they are a minority, lesbian or gay. All other sex workers would have to take their chances with the rest of the great unwashed.

  16. Andy says:

    A few things–maybe like the Official Secrets Act–are worthy of emulation.

    That’s just about the most authoritarian, anti-liberty law we could possibly pass.

    Your attitude well represents the current fear-centric mindset of the right.

  17. Anderson says:

    Pretty damn crazy. I hope OTB will update us on any further developments. The gag rule is just offensive in the extreme.

    N.b. that while the UK has no real equivalent to our Bill of Rights, they’re subject to European jurisdiction. I predict that unless this craziness is quickly corrected by embarrassed officials, that will be the avenue on which the mother finds any relief.

  18. Grewgills says:

    Hopefully there will be enough political pressure to get a good and thorough review and the child will go where it is best.

    My point is there has been a recent spate of postings on OTB about problems with social services in England.

    There are problems with England’s social services which shows that social services are bad so we shouldn’t have them. (oops, Bithead, JohnG,and John Burgess beat me to it)

    You might get legal protection for sex workers through here, only if they are a minority, lesbian or gay. All other sex workers would have to take their chances with the rest of the great unwashed.

    Yea, just like in Nevada.

    N.b. that while the UK has no real equivalent to our Bill of Rights, they’re subject to European jurisdiction. I predict that unless this craziness is quickly corrected by embarrassed officials, that will be the avenue on which the mother finds any relief.

    Really?