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Preying on the Disabled
December 26, 2012 permalink
When Victoria Bristow's two boys had a rare disability, British child protectors accused her of making up their condition in order to obtain help with looking after them (Munchausen) and tried to take custody. Now she has won her case with a rare apology.
Mother wins apology after council tries to take her disabled children away
A mother who spent a year fighting to stop social services taking her disabled twins into care after she was accused of making up a condition which made them unable to walk has won an apology from her local council.
Thomas and Daniel Bristow, both now three, are unable to walk because of a rare muscle disorder called hypotonia.
But their mother Victoria Bristow said the council had never provided the help that she needed to look after them and after she asked for it repeatedly they tried to take the children away.
She said she was accused of making up their condition in order to obtain help with looking after them, and it was only after a year-long legal battle that the local authority backed down, in October this year.
Mrs Bristow said doctors had confirmed the boys were "permanently functionally disabled" but the council believed they would get better with a course of physiotherapy.
The 36-year-old, from Norwich, has now received an apology from Norfolk County Council but she said it was still failing to provide enough help for them.
The former care worker said she was struggling after the birth of the boys in 2009, being poorly after suffering two major haemorrhages, and that the council were unable to provide any help.
When the twins were 14 months old and unable to stand up or even bear weight on their legs, Mrs Bristow and her husband Paul, who works in Norfolk council’s HR department, became concerned and saw doctors about their condition.
“They have got low muscle tone which kind of means they are a bit like rag dolls,” she said. Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital said it was “a rare form of spinal muscular atrophy”.
She and her husband, 34, who suffers from arthritis, were struggling increasingly to carry them up and down the stairs. But she said the council had doubts about the condition.
“There was the thought that the boys’ disability was down to our parenting style somehow,” she said, explaining that they had been criticised for withdrawing the children from physiotherapy which was not helping.
Mrs Bristow said when an assessment finally took place social workers expressed concern that the children might be at risk, partly due to her mental health. She said she suffers from a mild form of depression.
“The assessment concluded that due to my mental health and because they didn’t understand why the boys were disabled, they felt they were at risk of neglect, and needed to be taken into immediate foster care, with no plans for reuniting with us.”
The Bristows learnt of the conclusion in a letter delivered in October last year, and for a year lived with the fear that the boys would be taken away if the council obtained a court order.
Mrs Bristow said she “was accused of trying to use their disabilities to gain services’ attention”.
“The idea is the parent makes up an injury to gain attention. They were accusing me of making up the boys’ disabilities. Actually, we hadn’t recognised the extent of their disabilities. They are very disabled little boys.”
She added: “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my children so I researched the law and I fought like crazy.”
After months of delay, the case was concluded in her favour.
Mrs Bristow said: “We have never ever deliberately harmed them in any way at all.”
She said she now planned to support other families in similar situations.
Lisa Christensen, director of children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said it was not possible to “comment in detail” on cases involving children as the information was confidential.
But she added: “I can say in general terms that social workers have a very difficult job to do and can justifiably be criticised if they fail to respond in cases where concerns have been raised.”
She also said that the council provided a “range of support” to disabled children but that in some cases there was a “difference of opinion between the parents and the agencies involved about the level and nature of services provided”.
“In this case we have acknowledged and apologised for mistakes made and are anxious to work with the family in the interests of the children.”
Source: Telegraph (UK)