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.
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.