Baby was put in care even though mother ‘posed no risk’
Fiona Hamilton / The Times
May 1, 2009
A baby was placed into care and is facing adoption after a psychologist misdiagnosed the mother’s mental state.
The child has been in foster care for six months even though experts have said that the mother posed no immediate risk.
A psychologist told Ipswich County Court this week that she had inaccurately assessed the mother as having factitious illness, formerly known as Munchausen’s by proxy. That assessment resulted in Suffolk County Council putting the baby on the childcare protection register.
The diagnosis was based on accusations that the mother had made up illnesses for her son from another relationship, which she denied. The diagnosis was changed after a psychiatrist said that there was no evidence that the mother had fabricated anything about her son.
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The psychologist said that she had since concluded that the mother had narcissistic personality disorder, where sufferers can believe they are special and have difficulty showing empathy. This disorder was not a barrier to successful parenting, the psychologist said.
The opening up of the family courts to the media means that the details of the case can be published.
Once the baby was born, the mother and father were subjected to regular visits by social workers. The mother told one that her partner would feel like killing them all if the baby was taken away. A few days later the baby was taken into care.
The psychologist said that the baby was removed despite there being no immediate concerns about its treatment. “I understand that there were never any concerns about [its] practical care. There were risks in the long term . . . in terms of consistency of parenting,” she said.
She added that the mother craved attention, regardless of the welfare of her baby.
The mother would find it difficult “to put the baby’s needs before her own, she said, although there was no evidence she had done this while caring for the baby.
Experts also expressed concern about risks posed by the father.
The court was given insight into the numerous difficulties faced by social services in dealing with the case. All three experts who gave evidence agreed that the parents were evasive and that the father had told substantial untruths on several occasions. When the mother told the father on Saturday that she wanted to leave him, he had taken a knife and gone into another room — with the implication that he would harm himself if they were apart.
Two experts complained that they had not been given enough information about the case — only one of the three had observed the mother, the father and the baby.
They emphasised that both parents would need significant therapy to overcome their problems.
One of the experts said that the mother had suffered from depression and although she responded well to medication, she did not always take it.
The local authority took a measured approach to the circumstances. While it could have moved immediately to a care plan recommending adoption, it agreed to further assessment of the couple.
The baby will be kept in foster care in the meantime, with a further hearing scheduled for July. If assessments are not positive, the child is likely to be adopted.