Parents Accused of Misfeeding Their Son. Two-Year Battle to Stop Social Workers Taking Him Into Care
1. A couple have won a legal battle to prevent social workers taking their 5 year old son into care after the authorities claimed that his health had been damaged by a meat-and-dairy free diet. Social services even tried to get police to investigate the family and threatened to seize the boy's 2 older siblings during the 2-year ordeal. According to a report in the Sunday Times (19/04/10) "the parents were forced to represent themselves in court after their legal aid was removed - simply because they had insisted on contesting the case."
2. A Family Court judge removed a supervision order on the child previously obtained by social workers and ruled that he must be taken off the at-risk register. Marie and Ken, the parents, had suffered 2 years of distress; Marie, a trainee aromatherapist from Lewisham in London called it a nightmare, and Lord Justice Wall, new head of the Family Courts, described the eagerness of some social workers to take children into care as "quite shocking".
3. The case, under the heading 'Council tried to seize "veggie" child', is seen as another example of social services preferring to seize children rather than risk the type of bad publicity sparked by the case of Baby Peter, the toddler who died in 2007 after his plight was repeatedly overlooked.
4. Marie and Ken's ordeal began in March 2008 when their son, then aged 3, collapsed at home. Only after he was rushed to the Evelina Children's Hospital, in Central London, was it discovered that he appeared to be suffering from rickets, with very low levels of vitamin D, zinc and iron. Hospital doctors alerted Lewisham Council because they believed the child's condition was caused by malnutrition. Social workers from the council alleged that the family's diet, which included fish but no meat nor dairy produce, was the cause of the boy's rickets and said it could put him in future danger. However, the rest of the family, including another boy, now 10, and a girl, now 8, were found to be fit and healthy, despite sharing the same diet.
5. Marie, who asked for her son's name to be withheld said: "They implied that we had selectively starved one of our children. They twisted things, saying we were vegans, even though we eat fish. We don't eat dairy because asthma runs in the family and that can make it worse, but we are not vegans. I always give the children extra vitamins too. When the social workers found out that we home-educate our children we were accused of being 'unorthodox', which made us even more suspect in their eyes. We were told by social workers that they had obtained an 'emergency protection order' in case we tried to snatch our son from the hospital, which was quite ridiculous."
6. The boy remained at the hospital until November 2008. His parents were kept under supervision whenever they were with him. Ken, 35, said: "We found out from his dietician that when they initially gave him vitamin D his levels had gone up, but then over a period of months it dropped right back. It strongly indicates to us that he has a problem absorbing vitamin D - but social services continued to accuse us." The parents denied they played any role in causing their son's collapse, "which then became a reason in itself for seeking to remove him."
7. In late 2008 Lewisham Council applied to the Family Courts to have the boy taken into care, but was granted an interim supervision order instead. It allowed the boy to go home from hospital, but meant that social workers would visit frequently. Marie said: "We were told that once they had obtained the care order, they would apply for the same for the other children. Despite psychological reports that found the parents to be normal, the council attempted to upgrade to a full supervision order.
8. Social workers had considered seeking an investigation by the police "in the hope that the parents would acknowledge the 'harm' the child had suffered." Marie, who gave birth to the couple's 4th child last October, said "After our legal representation was removed we [requested] a judicial review of the reasons for the interim supervision order. The day before the court hearing last Tuesday the council called us to say that if we would agree to them 'monitoring and supporting' us for a year they would drop their application for a [full] order. We agreed to a 6-month period of monitoring." Marie stated that "the big issue remaining is that no one seems to want to find out what the real reason is for his medical problems."
9. John Hemming, MP, who advised the family, said: "It is just appalling the way parents are being forced to agree to councils' demands in order to keep their legal aid." Lewisham council said: "The court has made no criticism …. and considered that we acted entirely appropriately to protect the child." Guy's and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Evelina, said: "Patients are only referred to social services if a multidisciplinary team of senior clinicians suspect a child is in need …. No individual doctor makes this decision. The Legal Services Commission, which governs the awarding of legal aid, said that it could be withdrawn if the chances of success were seen to be too low."
10. VEGA NEWS over 5 years ago, anticipating rising rates of rickets (correctly), gave general advice on vitamin D (The Sunshine Vitamin). Other factors are - or might be - involved and our Portfolio of Eating Plans contains advice for grown ups contemplating meals cutting down on meat and dairy. Children need even more specialized advice, especially on causes of dietary insufficiency associated with factors other than vitamin D. We are actually awaiting results of some blood tests to assess the results and to incorporate some minor changes in energy values for adults. Consumption of fish introduces further complications in eating patterns that stretch vegetarian definitions too far. This case "gets real" with some of the challenges that the beleaguered health services have to deal with. Unfortunate excessive fortification of baby-milks after WW2 did do harm and has for a long time prompted caution - possibly undue and ill-advised - among paediatricians, doctors and nurses in fortification and supplementation. We hope shortly to review these matters.