Misattributions and the Consequences

'Inhuman' Scheme Forces Children Into Psychiatric Units

The Big Issue 17-20 August 1998 - Max Daly

Distraught families are calling for a change to an "inhuman" child protection system which could lead to hundreds of children diagnosed with ME being forced into psychiatric units against their parents' will.

Complaints over the treatment of children plucked from their families by social workers and judges under child protection law include a girl whose parental visits were linked to how many times she was sick, and a boy repeatedly told his family had made him ill.

Symptoms of the little-understood disease ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, range from exhaustion to polio-like disability - forcing thousands of teenage victims to miss school.

The medical world is divided between those who believe the condition is a mental disorder and these who accept it as physical. Each side has preferred treatments, although none have been proven to work.

But parents say their children face being taken into care if they disagree with local doctors and social workers over the method of treatment. Families say they are often blamed for their child's inability to recover because ME is misunderstood.

If they are seen as harming their own children by keeping them at home, local authorities can evoke the same powers used to remove children from violent or sexually abusive families.

According to charity Action for ME, around 450 of the 600 parents seeking advice on children with the disease each year feel threatened by a social services investigation into the family.

One father, who did not want to be named, told of his battle to keep his 15-year-old son at home. He was a bright schoolboy and he got a virus. Then he couldn't walk. It was a classic case of ME.

"Our local doctor and social services department wanted him to go to a psychiatric hospital. But I disagreed. So we were frog-marched to a child protection conference in front of 14 people including social workers, solicitors and doctors and accused of putting our son at risk. It was horrendous, we had no opportunity of giving our case fairly".

Dr Alan Franklin, a retired consultant paediatrician, said: "This treatment of families is inhuman and is based on doctors misunderstanding the disease. It is not a psychological illness but it does have psychological effects. The physical side of this illness is played down by some doctors".

Parents concerned about treatment given to child sufferers of ME can write to Young Action Online, P0 Box 4347, Stock, Essex CM4 NTA, UK.


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