Can you cope?

It’s a simple question – yes or no?

If you are a parent of a disabled child – it is a question, when asked by a social worker, that you may dread.  If you say ‘yes’ you are at significant risk of having your support cut.  If you say ‘no’ your child is clearly at risk.  Instead of addressing this by providing extra support – it appears that some families are being threatened (explicitly or tangentially) with the ‘safeguarding’ process.

Writing over 20 years ago the late, great and delightful Ken Simons noted how many families were fearful of complaining or asking for more help because of implicit threats of this kind (in his research – the withdrawal of services if a request for additional help was made).  In his view it did not ‘take many incidents of this sort to undermine the confidence of families, particularly when they are coupled with what appears to be a worrying lack of commitment on the part of social services’.  He then cited an interviewee: “They will not commit themselves in any shape or form until there is a crisis”.[1]

In my work, I am coming across more and more families with disabled children who are experiencing implicit threats of this kind.  It appears, however, that for some their predicament is even worse.

BBC Radio Gloucester has aired two programmes[2] which recount how families who have asked their council for more help (and/or made a complaint about social services failings) have then been accused of fabricating the extent of their child’s illness / impairment (FII[3]).  The families, are being supported by the local Parent and Carer Alliance C.I.C.

The BBC has had expert advice to say that it would be expected that a county the size of Gloucestershire would have one case of FII every 2 years[4] – but the programme has heard from over 12 families who claim to have been accused of this (after requesting help / complaining).

A recent ‘post’ by the 2 tired and a toddler blog[5] included details of a survey it had undertaken (and which received 113 individual responses).  The blog accepts the methodological limitations of the survey but its findings are troubling.  Overall, 33% of those responding surveyed had been threatened with child protection proceedings and 30% were threatened with the removal of their children (ten councils are named in the survey).  The blog considers that a ‘significant point’ was that in 30% of the cases the local authority action followed a request by the family for help, and of these:

  • 25% were threatened with child protection proceedings;
  • 32% were threatened with removal of children;
  • 41% were directly accused of FII;
  • 66% were indirectly accused of FII (concerns raised for seeking 2nd opinion seeking diagnosis or knowing medical terminology for example).

The blog notes (a point echoed in the testimonies of families interviewed by BBC Radio Gloucester) that ‘only parents who have been accused of fabricated and induced illness can really say how far reaching and completely devastating these accusations are’.

Click here to access the survey details.

For a resource note concerning the misuse by local authorities of their ‘protection’ powers click here.

Image ‘Crossing the Irfon at Caer Beris, Builth Wells’.


[1] Ken Simons I’m not complaining, but … (Joseph Rowntree Foundation 1995) p.34
[2] BBC Radio Gloucester 10th December 2018 Mark Cummins programme at at 2:07:27 and 11th December 2018 at 2:20:17.
[3] Fabricated and induced illness.
[4] BBC Radio Gloucester 11th December 2018 Mark Cummins programme at at 2:23:40.
[5] A blog that focuses on the needs of people with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (a connective tissue disorder).

Posted 4 January 2019