Living with the legacy of care

By Angus Stickler

April 7, 2009 / Today programme, BBC

The physical, sexual and emotional abuse in children's homes through the 1970s and 1980s is well documented.

But it is possible that hundreds of women, who were in care homes across the UK in that period, have handed down a more devastating legacy to their own children.

A group of former residents of a children's home, run by the Church of England, in Kent have revealed that the girls were given massive doses of tranquilisers.

Now those girls have gone on to have children of their own; children who were born with a range of birth defects.

Teresa Cooper was one of those girls. She arrived at Kendall House in Kent at the age of 14. Over the 32 months she was there, she was given medication at least 1,248 times - cocktails of 11 different drugs.

She says of her arrival: "I didn't want to go in. I knew something was wrong. There was bars on the window.

"The first thing that they did in the morning when we woke up is that, we went downstairs and they made me line up for tablets.

"Nobody told me what they were, what they were for - they just told me that it was for my own good. I remember, one of the girls, the first thing she said to me is that I had better take the tablets and not argue it."

Teresa also recounts being held down by up to six members of staff in order to be sedated.

But she had no mental illness - her "problems" were according to reports "caused wholly by very difficult home circumstances". Rather than being placed in a recommended boarding school, she was placed at Kendall House.

Chemical cosh

The Home Office consultant psychiatrist in charge, Dr Perinpanyagam, has said in the past that the drugs used by the staff at the home were safe and did not have side effects.

Dr Perinpanyagam has since died.

However, evidence shows the girls were, for years, given drugs which had been strongly criticised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Teresa, for instance, was given major tranquillisers: Haloperidol, Droleptan and Depixol. She was also given valium, diazepam up to 10 times the current recommended dose and Sparine, another major tranquilliser.

Jeffrey Aronson, professor of clinical pharmacology at Oxford University, says he has not seen a situation to compare and that the amounts and types of drugs given to Teresa were "unacceptable".

"That would act as what people used to call a chemical cosh if you like - a cosh - something that knocks you out…this girl is being given large amounts of drugs that act on the brain in many different ways.

"Even in the 1980s, for a 14-year-old girl, with no history of psychiatric illness whatsoever, who is in a home for social reasons, to be given large doses of many different psychoactive drugs in this way is very, very unusual."

Teresa says the effect on her was devastating. "Every single day I wanted to die and because I couldn't die I'd cut myself up," she says.

"I'd break pens, I'd break anything that could cut, anything, if I could pull a nail out of the bed or do something - I'd use that - I'd slice myself up.

"Because I didn't feel the pain really - you don't feel the pain - you're so drugged you don't feel it. You just know that when you're doing it there's some sort of relief - because you can physically see that you're bleeding and that's your pain coming out."

Birth defects

Teresa left Kendal House in 1984 at the age of 16 - and went on to have a family.

New evidence suggests that the drugs the girls were given may have caused genetic damage, which was passed on to their children in the form of birth defects.

Teresa has had three children: her eldest son was born with respiratory problems, her second born blind with learning difficulties.

Her third, Sarah, is now 16, and has been in and out of hospital all her life. She was born with a small jaw, known as Pierre Robin Syndrome, and a cleft palate.

Teresa says: "I had literally just given birth [to Sarah] and all of a sudden all these doctors appeared from nowhere - and nobody would talk to me.

"You know, they were all just rushing around my baby - which was fine - I didn't hear her cry - I actually thought she was dead at first and they took her off and took her to intensive care."

The trauma of her childhood has affected Teresa. "I tried to commit suicide and I put myself in intensive care and my daughter went to the hospital with me. She watched them try and resuscitate me and I hated myself for it...because I saw what it done to her."

Teresa decided to track down other girls from Kendall House to see if they were having similar problems.

She found that 10 of the girls had gone on to have children with birth defects. Those girls were all given drugs. Two girls she contacted who were not drugged had children without birth defects.

"I noticed that they started having birth defects such as brain tumours - hydrocephalus, learning difficulties - and it wasn't with one or two girls - it's like four, five six and the numbers start going up.

"We were young girls - we were going through puberty as well - and I do believe those drugs did something and they affected us.

"If it's happening to us there could be others out there it's happening to. We don't know whether it's because we were so severely overdosed or whether it is just a normal problem if you give that to a teenage girl for example."

Perfectly acceptable

Prof Aronson looked at the range and number of drugs Teresa was given and said that there is evidence that the drugs could have caused birth defects in her children.

"Changes in genes and chromosomes induced by drugs may lead to birth defects or abnormalities later in life," he says.

"But the fact that there were 10 of them affected in this is quite suggestive."

The Church of England has issued a statement which said that it could not comment on individual circumstances.

"However, if the police, social services or appropriate legal body initiates an investigation, the Diocese [of Rochester] will cooperate fully with them," the statement says.

"It would be inappropriate for the Diocese to initiate any internal enquiries since we are not qualified to do this. In any event, it would be essential for any investigation to be conducted both professionally and impartially."

In all, the BBC investigation identified six other children's homes using drugs. Tracking them down is more difficult - the records simply do not exist.

Mike Lindsay, chief adviser at the office of the Children's Rights Director based in Ofsted, is currently on secondment as national co-ordinator for the Children's Rights Alliance, England.

He worked in an assessment centre in south London in the early 1980s.

He confirms that there could be hundreds of children in care whose behaviour was controlled with the use of drugs.

"Using drugs to control the behaviour of children was perfectly acceptable as far as their own professional understanding at that time went," he says.

"I think there was a lot of it going on."

Average: 7 (1 vote)

Family history, child placement and future generations

I think it's only a matter of time before more and more people are going to see how the over-abundant use of psychotropic medications on children affects future generations.  Sadly, I believe there is another risk-factor many will be seeing in the future, thanks to the labels many doctors are giving many children put in-care.  There is evidence that suggests soon-to-be-mothers (and fathers) are having their babies taken away (by social services) because of past hospitalizations, reported/documented medical (mental-health) conditions and so-called high risk-factors related to certain mental disorders.  [See:  "My baby will be taken from me the moment it's born" and "Social workers said because I was a soldier, I was more likely to be violent to my own children".]  Do people honestly believe those given a DSM diagnosis today will NOT have trouble with social services, in the future?  People have to seriously wonder if a new breed of parent-profiling and targeting isn't already happening to a new generation of parents.  [After all, weren't unwed mothers  easy-targets for religious groups and adoption agencies in the past?]

Fortunately, there are some who see this trend in social services already happening and they are trying to voice their concerns to the public.  Is it helping?  That remains to be seen.  In the 2007 article, Babies 'removed to meet targets',  a spokesman for the Department for Education said there were "no targets relating to the numbers of children coming into care".  However, John Hemming, MP argued that social services departments are under pressure to meet adoption targets set by the government.  [For those keeping score, it seems this sentiment was repeated, across the pond, in US Senator Nancy Shaefer's speech, The System Cannot be Trusted. ]

Given the most recent pleas made by UK charity workers, I cannot help but think a parent's mental-health history is going to become the growing concerned interest for many quota-minded people working with/in private agencies.  The question is:  what sort of short and long-term care/services are these agency workers going to give/provide new parents with troubled pasts?

The generation before

"Using drugs to control the behaviour of children was perfectly acceptable as far as their own professional understanding at that time went," he says.

"I think there was a lot of it going on."

Using drugs to control behavior.  This, of course, got me thinking... especially since this morning, a friend sent me a few articles he thought I'd like to read.  The topic:  drugs taken by many mothers.

Back in the 1950's and 1960's many women were taking a medication known to relieve morning-sickness and depression.  The drug was known as Thalidomide.  Many articles, such as 'They just didn't know what it would do' and The curse of thalidomide limb defects is explained 50 years on , can be found, explaining the side effects associated with this "helpful" drug.  However, the following excerpt illustrates another (hidden?) side-effect associated with drug-use and future treatment:

The drug was not only administered as a treatment for morning sickness: it was also marketed as a "harmless" sedative.

Margaret Yendell had taken it following a nervous breakdown. When she gave birth to a son without arms, health professionals didn't think that she could stand the shock.

Margaret left hospital without her son, Tom, who was taken off to a children's home. "We never saw him," she recalls. "I was told 'you're not to have anything to do with this child at all'."

"It must have been at least six months before we saw him," Margaret's husband, Jack, told me. "It was one of the saddest times of our lives."   [From:  Thalidomide: 40 years on BBC News, June 7, 2002 ]

So, I have to keep asking the same rhetorical question I've been asking many, many years -- If the answer to a parent's problem is "Put the child in-care", and those children are abused and put on many experimental drugs (while in-care), what sort of future society will be looking at?

HOME two months...

Most of you have followed my daughter's home-coming...  in the past two months we have weaned my daughter off the mind-numbing drugs she was given in foster care to "subdue" her.  Underneath I have found a very normal 18 year old young woman who has FINALLY been set free.  She came home having gained 50 pounds...
When she arrived in foster care, a traumatized child of 15, she was a very petite and attractive girl.  She was fawned over and "desired" because of her Asian heritage that matched the already adopted great-grandson in the foster home.  She was lied to and bribed... and then reality set in:  she was a severally abused child who had just lost her family.  SOOOOO, she was immediately DRUGGED with Lexapro, Abilify, Zyprexa and also something to make her sleep...  The side effects of Zyprexa are:
"At the start of Zyprexa therapy, the drug can cause extreme low blood pressure, increased heart rate, dizziness, and, in rare cases, a tendency to faint when first standing up. These problems are more likely if you are dehydrated, have heart disease, or take blood pressure medicine."   MY daughter had two strokes at birth!!!!!!!!!!!!!  What were these ass holes thinking???????????
YES, Kerry, "what sort of future society will we be looking at?"   GOD have mercy!

What did I ever do to deserve this... Teddy

Future side-effects

 she was immediately DRUGGED with Lexapro, Abilify, Zyprexa and also something to make her sleep... 

Four drugs given to a child... a child who has a significant medical history.  All of those drugs have known side-effects...some of those side-effects include trouble sleeping, sexual dysfunction, confusion and  suicidal thinking.  [I always encourage ANYONE taking ANY sort of medication to research the drug's name and known/reported side-effects.  This is information not always given by the one prescribing the medication; fortunately, nowadays this information can easily be found via the Internet.  I ESPECIALLY encourage all parents to read the Black Box warning label found on certain prescribed medications.] 

I know there are those who argue medication can save lives -- I consider all that could/would happen if the diabetic or schizophrenic did not receive their medication and in many cases, the benefits DO outweigh the risks -- but the wrong dose and wrong type of medication given for the wrong reasons can cause serious damage and even death.  Therefore, I am not against the use of medication if it greatly improves and saves lives, especially if proper diet, nutrition and healthy life-style habits are not enough to maintain a certain level of health and well-being.  I am concerned so many in the health profession are admitting children are being OVER medicated (using all sorts of drug combinations/cocktails) simply because certain adults want improved behavior.  [A very disturbing example can be found here:  Verdict:  Guilty ]

The problem is, there are UNKNOWN side-effects, too... side effects that may not manifest themselves until that young girl grows up, becomes a woman, and gives birth.

I think it's bad enough parents have to worry what's being given to our children... I think it's even worse to know long-term studies are proving many of those well-meaning offerings are causing all sorts of health problems and physical deformities in future off-spring.

lawsuits against drug companies

Anyone notice all the commercials on TV about class-action lawsuits made against pharmaceutical companies these days? The claim being made is certain anti-depressants taken during pregnancy can cause birth defects, but what if we find out you don't have to be pregnant to develop long-term problems during pregnancy?

Not enough research being done

Indeed; it will be interesting to see what develops as the kids-in-care become pregnant/parents themselves.  Will we be seeing more complicated births and defects, and will those abnormalities be seen as prescription drug side effects -- or will they be seen as poor genetics, passed-down by "no good" parents?  [After all, there is a social stigma against any parent whose child becomes a ward of the state.]

Pound Pup Legacy