5.2 Fabricated or Induced Illness
Please also see Abuse of Disabled Children Guidance where the concern relates to a disabled child.
This chapter was updated in June 2015 to provide up-date contact details for the National Crime Agency (See Section 9, Covert Video Surveillance).
Fabricated or Induced Illness is a rare, 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 and not initially on attempts to diagnose the parent or carer. This can inflict both physical and emotional harm.
Please see Safeguarding Children in Whom Illness is Fabricated or Induced which was issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2008 (as guidance supplementary to Working Together to Safeguard Children) and provides further essential guidance which practitioners should always consult where there are suspicions of fabricated or induced illness.
The Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health 2009 guidance 'Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers' provides further guidance for medical clinicians.
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.
2. Identifying Concerns
Doctors/paediatricians may be concerned 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 investigations do not explain reported symptoms and signs; or
- There is an inexplicably poor response to prescribed medication and 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.
Concerns may 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.
Concerns about a child's health should be discussed with a Health professional who is involved with the child such as the school nurse, GP or paediatrician.
If any professional considers their concerns are not taken seriously or responded to appropriately, these should be discussed with the Designated Doctor or Designated Nurse.
There may be a number of explanations for these circumstances and each requires careful consideration and review.
3. Consultation and Confidentiality
Consultation with colleagues 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.
Information sharing between professionals at this stage is absolutely crucial.
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.
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 in accordance with the Knows ley MASH (Multi-Agency Referral Form).
Whilst professionals should, in general, discuss any concerns with the family and, where possible, seek agreement to making referrals to Children's Social Care, this should only be done where such discussion and agreement seeking will not place a child at increased risk of Significant Harm.
Whilst Children's Social Care have lead responsibility for action to safeguard and promote the child's welfare, the decision about how to respond to the referral should be taken in consultation with the Consultant Paediatrician responsible for the child's health care and the Police as any suspected case of fabricated or induced illness may also involve the commission of a crime.
All decisions about what information is shared with parents should be taken jointly, bearing in mind the safety of the child.
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.
5. Strategy Meeting
If there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, Children's Social Care should convene a Strategy Meeting involving all the key professionals.
If emergency action is the required response, that is, if a child's life is in danger, an immediate Strategy Meeting should take place, i.e. on the same day as the receipt of the Referral.
The Strategy Meeting requires the involvement of key senior professionals responsible for the child's welfare. At a minimum, this must include Children's Social Care, the Police and the Paediatric Consultant responsible for the child's health. Additionally the following should be invited 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/School Nurse;
- Staff from education settings if appropriate;
- Local authority's legal adviser;
- Designated Nurse.
Where the Strategy Meeting decides that a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated, see Section 6, Section 47 Enquiry and Single Assessment.
It may be necessary to have more than one Strategy 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.
There may be circumstances where concerns have not been substantiated but doubts remain as to the reasons for a child's presentation and fabricated or induced illness remains as a possibility. In these circumstances it may be appropriate for the Strategy Meeting to agree further assessment or monitoring as necessary to establish an adequate explanation and then re-convene. These further assessments may be of a single or multi-agency nature. Care must be taken to keep monitoring timescales so that concerns are not allowed to drift over long periods of time.
6. Section 47 Enquiry and Single Assessment
When it is decided that there are grounds to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry as part of a Single Assessment, decisions should be made at the Strategy Meeting about how the Section 47 Enquiry will be carried out including:
- The need for extreme care over confidentiality, including careful security regarding supplementary records;
- Each agency should provide a written chronology of the contacts they have had with the child and family;
- The need for expert consultation;
- Arrangements for the medical records of all family members, including children who may have died or no longer live with the family, to be collated and presented in a chronological form by the Consultant Paediatrician or other suitable medical clinician. 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 designation of a medical clinician to oversee and co-ordinate the medical treatment of the child to keep to a minimum the number of specialists and hospital staff the child may be seeing;
- Any particular factors, such as the child and family's culture, religion, ethnicity, language and special needs which should be taken into account;
- The needs of siblings and other children with whom the alleged abuser has contact;
- The needs of parents;
- Whether the child requires constant professional observation to ensure his or her safety
- The nature and timing of any police investigations, including analysis of samples and covert video surveillance (see Section 9, Covert Video Surveillance);
- Obtaining legal advice over evaluation of the available information (where a legal adviser is not present at the meeting).
7. Police Investigation
Any evidence gathered by the Police should be available to other relevant professionals, to inform discussions about the child's welfare and contribute to the Section 47 Enquiry and Single Assessment.
In cases where a criminal offence is suspected 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, which would normally rule out any agency other than the police confronting the suspect.
8. Outcome of Section 47 Enquiry and Single Assessment
8.1 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.
In these circumstances, it may be that no protective action is required, but the family should be provided with the opportunity to discuss what further help it may require. In these circumstances, the Single Assessment will be completed.
8.2 Concerns substantiated but no continuing risk of Significant Harm
Concerns may be substantiated, but an assessment made that the child is not judged to be at continuing risk of Significant Harm. In this case, the decision not to proceed to an Initial Child Protection Conference must be endorsed by the relevant manager within Children's Social Care and recorded on the relevant records and database. An Inter Agency Planning Meeting may be considered as an appropriate format to meet the needs of the child and promote his/her welfare.
In all circumstances the assessments may demonstrate that services should be provided to the child and family to support them and promote the child's welfare as a Child in Need.
8.3 Concerns substantiated and continuing risk of Significant Harm
Where concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering or at risk of suffering Significant Harm, an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened.
The conference should be held within 15 working days from the last Strategy Meeting i.e. the point at which the decision to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry was made.
Attendance at this conference should be as for other initial conferences although specific decisions about the participation of the parents/carers will need to be discussed with the Conference Chairperson.
The following additional experts should also be invited as appropriate:
- A professional with expertise in working with children in whom illness is fabricated or induced and their families; or
- Paediatrician with expertise in the branch of paediatric medicine able to present the medical findings.
Each agency should contribute a written report to the conference, which sets out a chronology of their involvement with the child and the family. This is particularly important for health professionals.
As decided at the Strategy Meeting, all available medical notes (including GP, health visitor and all local hospital notes) should have been reviewed before the conference and a detailed chronology of the medical history of the child and any siblings drawn up. This should be presented at the Initial Child Protection Conference.
9. Covert Video Surveillance
The lead responsibility for covert video surveillance is carried by the Police.
All decisions to undertake covert video surveillance should be taken at the highest level within Merseyside Police on the recommendation of a Strategy Meeting and should be clearly recorded, with reasons given why it is necessary.
Where there is any doubt about the use of covert video surveillance, legal advice should be sought.
The decision should be notified to the Executive Director of Children and Family Services and the Chief Executive of the relevant NHS Trust.
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.
The necessary action to implement the decision will be the responsibility of the Police, who should obtain the necessary authorisation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. If that authority is granted, the Police have sole responsibility for implementing and undertaking any such surveillance, including the supply and installation of any equipment and the security and archiving of the video-tapes.
Any use of covert surveillance by the Police should be carried out in accordance with good practice advice available from the National Crime and Operation Faculty, the ACPO (2004) Manual of Surveillance Standards and the ACPO (2004) Policy for Covert Monitoring Posts, both of which are held by the National Specialist Law Enforcement Centre (NSLEC).
Police Officers planning surveillance in cases of suspected fabricated or induced illness may seek advice from the National Crime Agency, telephone 0370 496 7622 (email@example.com).
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.