It has been widely reported that an Italian Woman was sedated, and against her will a caesarean was performed, and her baby taken into care. The baby remains in care and has been put up for adoption. It has been suggested that the mother’s ill health and the possibility of a relapse of Bipolar Disorder was deemed a justification for not giving this mother and baby the chance of a family life together. It is emerging that the mother was at great risk of rupturing, and that this was the reason for medics seeking the order to perform a safe birth, and because in the depths of her illness
She was not able to take care of herself and therefore the health of her child. The vitriol expressed towards social workers and the secrecy of the family courts are in much debate, and inform the original motivation for reporting this story, this may be a grave injustice, if so then it must not become representative of the mental health and child protection systems. It would seem that the very reporting of this was hasty and irresponsible.
Sensationalism has a real knack of drawing people in and what can be more shocking than a child taken from the womb? And because of a ‘panic attack’. A judge described the mothers mental state as being profoundly unwell. The few facts we were given feeds into our propensity towards consuming limited facts at great speed, and failing to examine and think carefully about a very complex issue. A panic attack, and a full relapse of Bipolar Disorder are two very different things, the latter can lead to a person experiencing psychosis and having to stay in hospital, voluntarily or not.
I would hope that a debate might be sparked about the merits of consistent psychiatric care for women, with consistent access to mother and baby units. I also hope that some of the difficult realities of child protection might start to be discussed in greater depth. I don’t wish to speculate on what risks the courts, medics and social workers thought were present because I don’t know them. In an ideal world perhaps mum and baby could have gone to a unit where they would have been closely supervised and kept together. However, because I don’t know how ill she was, and the risks she might have presenting in that illness I don’t want to be hasty.
A glance at the catalogue of horrendous child deaths, Baby P, Victoria Climbie, Ainlee Walker to name just a few, a suggestion that social workers have an agenda to steal children is simply not supported. Social Work departments are under such pressure that they are not able to act on all the concerns brought to their attention. A recent Community Care poll of 600 social work professionals tells the story of rising thresholds for all forms of child abuse. It’s worth noting that in the case of Ainlee Labonte concerns about her were present whilst she was in the womb, would Ainlee have lived and thrived if she were taken into care at birth or as a small baby?
As I understand it the medics asked the courts for the judgment and then social services became involved to care for the child. How would we be reacting if social services hadn’t been involved and real harm came to the child?
The Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health said in 2012 that, “Fewer than half of all mental health trusts in Great Britain provide a specialised perinatal mental health team that is staffed by at least a consultant perinatal psychiatrist and specialised community perinatal mental health nurses.”
In cases like these, we should look to Government and scrutinise how resources are distributed and budgets savaged with patients paying the price.
What I worry most about with this case is that we won’t look at the wider structural factors such as cuts to psychiatric services and the underfunding of child protection systems. Instead we shall make a judgement based on too few facts. We may undo the great work being done by projects such as ‘Time to Change’ in trying to counter the terrible stigma that goes with mental ill health. I really don’t think we are going to help care and protect vulnerable children by yet more social worker demonization.
As an adult who has a mental health diagnosis, of Bipolar, and who has been sectioned, sedated and all the rest, this story does frighten me. It reminds me of the power being seriously unwell and how you lose the right to make decisions. It also reminds me of the constant risk of relapse and the sadness that comes when you look back on periods of ill health. I was also in care as a child and I sometimes wish I had been born into a different life, that I didn’t have to see and experience some of the things I have and that in my adult life I wouldn’t have to carry around some of these memories. I don’t know in this case what’s best for the baby, I’m just highlighting that these cases are never simple, no one wins, it is incredibly sad and painful for all concerned. I can’t imagine anyone in this case feeling good about the outcome. I feel such sadness for the mother and I can’t comprehend her loss and the trauma of what has happened. At the same time I hope this baby thrives, and lives a happy life.
I don’t have a conclusion, or a big statement. I do hope that this one case doesn’t put off anyone from the really brave and important step of asking for help from mental health services, I also hope they are lucky enough to live in a borough that can provide good psychiatric care if they are pregnant. Luck, it would seem, is increasingly becoming ones best hope in a time when the most vulnerable are seen to cost too much. If we could really think about these wider issues, we might all gain something from the knowledge of this very sad case.