For detailed guidance on this issue, please refer to the DSCF 2008 document ‘Safeguarding Children in Whom Illness is Fabricated or Induced’
Fabricated or Induced Illness is a condition whereby a child suffers harm through the deliberate action of her/his main carer and which is attributed by the adult to another cause.
It is a relatively rare but potentially lethal form of abuse.
Concerns will be raised for a small number of children when it is considered that the health or development of a child is likely to be significantly impaired or further impaired by the actions of a carer or carers having fabricated or induced illness.
It is important that the focus is on the outcomes or impact on the child’s health and development and not initially on attempts to diagnose the parent or carer.
The range of symptoms and body systems involved in the spectrum of fabricated or induced illness are extremely wide, as can be the medical services in which children present, spanning primary, secondary and tertiary care.
Concern may be raised at the possibility of a child suffering significant harm as a result of having illness fabricated or induced by their carer.
These concerns may arise when:
- Reported symptoms and signs found on examination are not explained by any medical condition from which the child may be suffering; or
- Physical examination and results of medical investigations do not explain reported symptoms and signs; or
- There is an inexplicably poor response to prescribed medication and other treatment; or
- New symptoms are reported on resolution of previous ones; or
- Reported symptoms and found signs are not observed in the absence of the carer; or
- Over time the child is repeatedly presented with a range of symptoms to different professionals in a variety of settings; or
- The child’s normal, daily life activities are being curtailed beyond that which might be expected from any known medical disorder from which the child is known to suffer.
There may be a number of explanations for these circumstances and each requires careful consideration and review.
Concerns may also be raised by other professionals who are working with the child and/or parents/carers who may notice discrepancies between reported and observed medical conditions, such as the incidence of fits.
Professionals who have identified concerns about a child’s health should discuss these with the child’s GP or consultant paediatrician responsible for the child’s care.
If any professional has concerns about a situation being indicative of fabricated or induced illness, then these should be discussed with the agency’s Designated Professional who should consult the Designated Health Professional.
3. Explanation for these Circumstances
There are three main ways of the carer fabricating or inducing illness in a child:
- Fabrication of signs and symptoms, including fabrication of past medical history;
- Fabrication of signs and symptoms and falsification of hospital charts, records, letters and documents and specimens of bodily fluids;
- Induction of illness by a variety of means.
The above three methods are not mutually exclusive.
Harm to the child may be caused through unnecessary or invasive medical treatment, which may be harmful and possibly dangerous, based on symptoms that are falsely described or deliberately manufactured by the carer, and lack independent corroboration.
Children who have had illness fabricated or induced require coordinated help from a range of agencies.
Joint working is essential, and all agencies and professionals should:
- Be alert to potential indicators of illness being fabricated or induced in a child;
- Be alert to the risk of harm which individual abusers may pose to children in whom illness is being fabricated or induced;
- Share and help to analyse information so that an informed assessment can be made of children’s needs and circumstances;
- Contribute to whatever actions and services are required to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare;
- Assist in providing relevant evidence in any criminal or civil proceedings.
Consultation with peers or colleagues in other agencies is an important part of the process of making sense of the underlying reasons for these signs and symptoms. The characteristics of fabricated or induced illness are that there is a lack of the usual corroboration of findings with signs or symptoms or, in circumstances of diagnosed illness, lack of the usual response to effective treatment. It is this puzzling discrepancy which alerts the medical staff to possible harm being caused to the child.
The signs and symptoms require careful medical evaluation for a range of possible diagnoses.
Normally, the doctor would tell the parent/s that s/he has not found the explanation for the signs and symptoms and record the parental response.
Parents should be kept informed of further medical assessments / investigations/tests required and of the findings but at no time should concerns about the reasons for the child’s signs and symptoms be shared with parents if this information would jeopardise the child’s safety and compromise the child protection process and/or any criminal investigation.
5. Medical Evaluation
Where there are concerns about possible fabricated or induced illness, the signs and symptoms require careful medical evaluation for a range of possible diagnoses by a paediatrician.
If no paediatrician is already involved, the child’s GP should make a referral to a paediatrician.
Where, following a set of medical tests being completed, a reason cannot be found for the reported or observed signs and symptoms of illness, further specialist advice and tests may be required.
Normally the consultant paediatrician will tell the parent(s) that they do not have an explanation for the signs and symptoms.
Parents should be kept informed of further medical assessments/ investigations/tests required and of the findings but at no time should concerns about the reasons for the child’s signs and symptoms be shared with parents if this information would jeopardise the child’s safety and compromise the child protection process and/or any criminal investigation.
When a possible explanation for the signs and symptoms is that they may have been fabricated or induced by a carer and as a consequence the child’s health or development is or is likely to be impaired, a referral should be made to Children’s Social Care Services or the Police in accordance with the procedure in Making Referrals to Children’s Social Care.
All professionals should seek guidance from the Designated Health Professional before discussing any concerns with the family. Whilst the family’s agreement, wherever possible, should be sought before making a referral to Children’s Social Care Services, this should only be done where such agreement will not place a child at increased risk of Significant Harm.
Children’s Social Care Services should decide within one working day how to respond and what actions should be taken. Decisions should be agreed between the referrer and the recipient of the referral about what the parents will be told, by whom and when.
From the point of the referral, all professionals involved with the child should work together as follows:
- Lead responsibility for action to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare lies with Children’s Social Care Services;
- Any suspected case of fabricated or induced illness may involve the commission of a crime and therefore the police should always be involved;
- The paediatric consultant is the lead health professional and therefore has lead responsibility for all decisions pertaining to the child’s health care.
In cases where the police obtain evidence that a criminal offence has been committed by the parent or carer, and a prosecution is contemplated, it is important that the suspect’s rights are protected by adherence to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
7. Immediate Protection
If at any point there is medical evidence to indicate the child’s life is at risk or there is a likelihood of serious immediate harm, an application for an Emergency Protection Order or Police Protection powers should be used to secure the immediate safety of the child.
8. Strategy Discussion / Meeting
If there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm, the Children’s Social Care Services should convene a Strategy Discussion/Meeting involving all the key professionals.
Unless there is an emergency, this should be a Strategy Meeting, chaired by a manager from the Children’s Social Care Services.
If emergency action is the required response, for example, if a child’s life is in danger through poisoning or toxic substances being introduced into the child’s blood stream, an immediate Strategy Discussion should take place.
The Strategy Discussion/Meeting requires the involvement of key senior professionals responsible for the child’s welfare. At a minimum, this must include Children’s Social Care Services, the Police and the Paediatric Consultant responsible for the child’s health.
Additionally the following should be invited to Strategy Meetings as appropriate:
- A senior ward nurse if the child is an in–patient;
- A medical professional with expertise in the relevant branch of medicine;
- GP, Health visitor and School Nurse;
- Staff from education settings if appropriate;
- Local authority’s Legal adviser;
- Designated Nurse/Named Nurse.
Where the Strategy Discussion/Meeting decides that a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated, see Section 9, Section 47 Enquiry and Core Assessment.
Decisions about undertaking covert video surveillance and keeping records should be made at a Strategy Discussion/Meeting (see Section 13, Covert Video Surveillance). Any such decision should be clearly recorded, with reasons given why it is necessary.
It may be necessary to have more than one Strategy Discussion/Meeting.
This is likely where the child’s circumstances are very complex and a number of discussions are required to consider whether and, if relevant, when to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry.
For some children it may be necessary to institute legal proceedings either immediately or soon after the Child Protection Conference has ended.
9. Section 47 Enquiry and Core Assessment
When it is decided that there are grounds to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry as part of a Core Assessment, decisions should be made at the Strategy Discussion about how the Section 47 enquiry will be carried out including:
- What further information is required about the child and family and how it should be obtained and recorded;
- Whether it is necessary for records to be kept in a secure manner and how this will be ensured;
- Whether the child requires constant professional observation and if so, whether or when carer(s) should be present;
- Who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose, in particular planning further paediatric assessment(s);
- Any particular factors, such as the child and family’s culture, religion, ethnicity and language which should be taken into account;
- The needs of siblings and other children with whom the alleged abuser has contact;
- The needs of parents or carers;
- The nature and timing of any police investigations, including analysis of samples and covert video surveillance (see Section 13, Covert Video Surveillance);
- How information will be shared with parents and at what stage;
- Obtaining legal advice over evaluation of the available information (where a legal adviser is not present at meeting).
10. Police Investigation
Any evidence gathered by the Police must be available to other relevant professionals, to inform discussions about the child’s welfare and contribute to the Section 47 Enquiry and Core Assessment.
In cases where a criminal offence is suspected and a prosecution is contemplated, it is important that the suspects rights are protected by adherence to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which would normally rule out any agency other than the police confronting the suspect.
See Section 13, Covert Video Surveillance in relation to Covert Video Surveillance.
11. Outcome of Section 47 Enquiry and Core Assessment
11.1 Concerns Not Substantiated
As with all Section 47 Enquiries, the outcome may be that concerns are not substantiated – e.g. tests may identify a medical condition, which explains the signs and symptoms.
It may be that no protective action is required, but the assessment concludes that services should be provided to the child and family to support them and promote the child’s welfare as a Child in Need. In these circumstances, the Core Assessment should be completed and a planning meeting held to discuss the conclusions, and plan any future support services with the family.
11.2 Concerns Substantiated but No Continuing Risk of Significant Harm
Where concerns are substantiated, but the assessment concludes that the child is not judged to be at continuing risk of harm, the decision not to proceed to an Initial Child Protection Conference must be endorsed by the relevant Manager within Children’s Social Care Services and recorded on the relevant records and database. Again, a planning meeting to consider future action may be considered as an appropriate format to meet the needs of the child and promote his/her welfare.
Any request by a senior manager, or a named or designated professional in an involved agency that a Child Protection Conference be convened should be agreed.
11.3 Concerns Substantiated and Continuing Risk of Significant Harm
Where concerns are substantiated and the child judged to be suffering or at risk of suffering Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened. All evidence must be documented by this stage and where necessary an interim Child Protection Plan for the child must already be in place.
The conference should be held within 15 working days from the last Strategy Discussion i.e. the point at which the decision to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry was made.
12. Initial Child Protection Conference
Where concerns are substantiated and the child judged to be suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened. All evidence must be documented by this stage and where necessary an interim Child Protection Plan for the child must already be in place.
The conference should be held within 15 working days of the last Strategy Discussion.
Attendance at this conference should be as for other initial conferences – see Child Protection Conferences Procedure – although specific decisions about the participation of the parents/carers will need to be discussed with the Conference Chair and the following experts invited as appropriate:
- A professional with expertise in working with children and families where a care giver has fabricated or induced in a child;
- A paediatric consultant with expertise in the branch of paediatric medicine caused by the suspected abuse.
Each agency should contribute a written report to the conference – see Information for the Conference in the Child Protection Conferences Procedure – which sets out the nature of its involvement with the child and the family. This information should be precise and where possible validated at its source.
The child may have been seen by a number of professionals over a period of time: Children’s Social Care Services have responsibility for ensuring that, as far as is possible, this chronology (with special emphasis on the child’s medical history) has been systematically brought together for the conference. Where the medical history is complex, this should be done in close collaboration with the paediatric consultant responsible for the child’s health care. The health history of any siblings should also be considered. The Conference Chair has responsibility for ensuring that additional or contradictory information is presented, discussed and recorded at the conference.
Careful consideration should be given to when agency reports will be shared with the child’s parents. This decision will be made by the Conference Chair, in consultation with the professional responsible for the each report.
If the family has recently moved, contact should be made and information obtained from the paediatric services in the area where the family previously lived.
The conference should decide whether the child is at continuing risk of Significant Harm, and therefore in need of a Child Protection Plan. If this is the case, an outline Child Protection Plan should be developed stating clearly what action will be taken to safeguard the child immediately after the conference, as well as in the longer term.
The conference should also consider what action if any is required to protect siblings in the family.
13. Covert Video Surveillance
The use of covert video surveillance (CVS) is governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
After a decision has been made at a Strategy Discussion to use CVS in a case of suspected fabricated or induced illness, the surveillance should be undertaken by the Police. The operation should be controlled by the Police and accountability for it held by a Police manager. The Police should supply and install any equipment, and be responsible for the security of and archiving of video tapes.
The decision will only be made if there is no alternative way of obtaining information to explain the child’s signs and symptoms and its use is justified on the medical information available.
The primary aim of the surveillance is to identify whether a child is having an illness induced; and the obtaining of criminal evidence is of secondary importance. The safety of the child is the overriding factor.
Police officers planning surveillance in cases of suspected fabricated or induced illness may seek advice from the Specialist Operations Centre, Covert Advice Team, Telephone 0845 000 5463, firstname.lastname@example.org.
All personnel including nursing staff who will be involved in its use should have received specialist training.
Children’s Social Care should have a contingency plan in place, which can be implemented immediately if covert video surveillance provides evidence of the child suffering Significant Harm.