Research into practice

Chodkowski looks at a consultation document designed to improve joint working
where a child’s illness is fabricated or induced by a carer.

guidance Safeguarding Children in Whom Illness is Induced or Fabricated by
Carers with Parental Responsibilities
is designed to provide a framework
within which agencies can devise ways of working together where illness may be
fabricated or induced in a child by a carer.

is considered to be rare: one study quoted reports the incidence as one per
million head of population. But it also suggests this abuse is under-reported;
identification must be virtually unequivocal before child protection procedures
are employed, even where concern about harm to the child is high. In the study
of 128 children where fabricated or induced illness was suspected:

6 per cent died.

11 per cent had a sibling who had previously died.

15 per cent required intensive care.

35 per cent suffered major physical illness.

suffered long-term consequences including impairment of physical, psychological
and emotional development.

study describes the perpetrator as usually the child’s mother, often with a
history of childhood abuse or medical problems, and often previously treated
for mental health problems.

another study1 states that there is no classic perpetrator profile –
while it is usually the mother, fathers, other relatives and nurses have also
been implicated.

identification, the way in which professionals manage the case can have a major
impact on the child’s developmental outcomes. Evidence shows good outcomes
where children’s safety was addressed and long-term therapeutic work was
undertaken with the family.

workers and other professionals need to be aware of indicators of this abuse.
They should be trained in recognising behaviours exhibited by carers, as well
as recognising characteristics of artificial illness, namely:

Numerous physical complaints described in the child.

 – Symptoms present a confused picture not
conforming to easily recognisable conditions.

Symptoms are serious or unusual but unverifiable.

Parents attempt to justify their stories in unusual ways.

The child shows few physical signs.

There are extensive claims of illness supposedly identified at other hospitals.

The child is usually accompanied by his or her mother.

The mother often gives a history of illness herself.

shows that over half of these children are aged under-five. It is important to
gain information about the abuse by observing the child’s interactions with
family, peers and professionals and noticing differences between contact with
different people, as well as listening to the child.

to children and hearing their messages requires training and special skills,
including the ability to win trust and promote a sense of safety. Most children
feel loyalty towards those who care for them, or may not have concepts to
describe what has happened. Some may fear reprisals or their removal from home.

guidance recommends training at a number of levels to meet the needs of staff.
The framework set out in Working Together outlines three stages of
training for staff who have different degrees of decision-making responsibility
for children’s welfare, and it sets out the importance of joint working.
Training on fabricated or induced illness in children requires specialist
knowledge and should be tailored to address the range of professional roles and
responsibilities. Training programmes should be regularly reviewed and updated
in light of research and practice experience.

Department of Health, Home Office & Department for Education and Skills,
"Safeguarding Children in Whom Illness is Induced or Fabricated by Carers
with Parental Responsibilities, Supplementary Guidance to Working Together
to Safeguard Children
," DoH, HO & DfES, 2001

Chodkowski is a child care information system researcher at the Social Services
Research and Development Unit (SSRADU) at Oxford Brookes University


RM Reece, Child Abuse: Medical Diagnosis and Management, Lea and
Febiger, 1994

DM Eminson and RJ Postlethwaite, "Factitious Illness: Recognition
and Management", Archives of Disease in Childhood, Vol 67, 1992

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