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Un-Munchausen by Proxy

April 24, 2015 permalink

In 1996 Florida accused Kathy Bush of intentionally harming her own daughter, the medical theory of Munchausen by Proxy. Daughter Jennifer Bush went into foster care and Kathy went to jail. Today mother and daughter have reunited, and daughter Jennifer has rebuffed the Munchausen accusation. Sadly, the reconciliation does nothing to restore Jennifer's lost childhood.



Years after case, Jennifer Bush says she wasn't a victim of Munchausen or abuse by her mom

It was a heartbreaking case that ripped a 9-year-old girl from her South Florida family and sent her mother to prison for years.

Exactly 19 years ago today, Jennifer Bush was placed in state care amid allegations that her mother, Kathy Bush, was deliberately making her ill in an unusual — and some say now discredited — form of child abuse called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.

After shunning attention for years, Jennifer Bush is publicly defending her mom for the first time and agreed to release a written statement this week and answer a few, limited follow-up questions from the Sun Sentinel.

"Jennifer made it very clear: She thinks her mother never abused her," said Fort Lauderdale lawyer Robert Buschel, who defended Kathy Bush in her criminal trial and is the representative Jennifer Bush picked to relay her response to questions.

Jennifer Bush and Kathy Bush
Jennifer Bush, now 27, and her mom, Kathy Bush, photographed together in 2015. They have been reunited for years and Jennifer says she does not believe her mother abused her.
Sun Sentinel/Family photo provided by Jennifer Bush

The Coral Springs family's story fascinated and polarized the community for years, generated dozens of headlines internationally and featured on national TV.

Many thought the little girl was secretly abused by a mother who caused her to undergo dozens of unnecessary medical procedures and surgeries. Others believed it was a clear case of government overreach by state child welfare workers who split the family and prosecutors who filed criminal charges.

Jennifer Bush never appeared in court, never testified against her mom and never publicly discussed the case. Authorities kept her out of view, and out of state, for years while she moved between foster homes and shelter care. When she was old enough, she made it clear she did not want to be in the spotlight.

Now 27, she is happily married and has fully reunited with her parents, Kathy and Craig Bush, who live in Georgia, and her brothers, Matthew and Jason. She still fiercely protects her privacy and does not want to reveal where she lives.

Despite all the public speculation about the case and her mother, Jennifer Bush thinks it is so obvious that her mother did not abuse her that she included no reference to it in her initial prepared written statement. She only made it clear she believes her mother is innocent when the Sun Sentinel asked the question.

Bush wrote that April 15, 1996, changed her life forever.

"That was the day that I was taken from my home and my family, but that day has not changed how close my family continues to be. The 10 years I spent in foster care were traumatic, and I had some devastating things happen to me. However, I persevered because of all of the angels that were there for me during these difficult times. These people helped shaped the woman I have become today," she wrote.

"Today, I can proudly say my family is extremely close knit. We have flourished despite the devastating separation. The bond I had with my brothers, prior to being removed from my family, is something that never changed. My relationship with them helped carry me through my years in foster care. My parents and I have picked up from where we left off, and have a very close and loving relationship."

Bush's time in foster care was difficult but inspired her to try to fix the system's problems herself. She became a social worker and says she hopes to become a foster parent herself soon.

"Today, I am living my dream as a social worker and changing the lives of the children and families I am working with today. I am married to my high school sweetheart, who has walked along side me for the past 10 years. I get a lot of joy making memories with my family, and making a difference in my community. Although this isn't always a happy anniversary, it is a day to celebrate my family and who we are today."

Kathy Bush, who prosecutors argued was motivated by a desire to seek attention and publicity for herself by making her daughter ill, sent a one-sentence reply to an email requesting comment from her and Craig: "We are very proud of Jennifer and our sons, they have all grown up to be fine adults and dedicated their lives to serving others."

She declined further comment. The couple's sons both worked as firefighters and Jason Bush served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed in Iraq during the war.

Buschel, the lawyer, said he thinks Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy was a flawed "diagnosis du jour" that has mostly fallen out of favor with medical experts. He said he has since represented other families who faced similar allegations but persuaded investigators that no crimes were committed.

"It's nice to see the government didn't succeed in destroying this family," Buschel said. "It's just good to see that Jennifer took her ordeal — of being separated from her family — and she really turned it around so that now she's helping other kids and parents."

The Bush family's ordeal began early in Jennifer's life when she appeared to be chronically ill with digestive problems, seizures and a host of related illnesses.

Before the abuse allegation surfaced, the little girl, sometimes dressed in a ballet tutu or baseball fan gear, and her mom were featured in newspaper articles about her illness.

They organized fundraisers to help pay her massive medical bills, were feted by sports stars and even visited the Clinton White House where they were invited to raise awareness about health care costs.

In April 1995, police and child welfare investigators began looking into a complaint made by a health care worker who suspected Kathy Bush might be intentionally causing her daughter to become ill by secretly giving her extra doses of medicine, infecting her and interfering with her treatment.

In her first eight years, Jennifer had spent 640 days in hospitals and underwent 40 medical procedures and 1,819 nonsurgical treatments, investigators said.

Authorities arrested Kathy Bush on abuse charges after a year of investigating. The same day, child welfare workers took Jennifer from her elementary school into state care. Authorities said her health improved immediately; the family said she'd been getting better for some time before she was taken away.

Jennifer Bush moved between several state shelter care homes and foster homes during the next several years while her mother battled criminal charges. Through it all, Bush's husband and their two sons managed to maintain their support for both Kathy and Jennifer, never wavering in their belief that Kathy was innocent and both needed to come home.

After a long, arduous trial in Broward Circuit Court in 1999, jurors found Kathy Bush guilty of aggravated child abuse. The judge only allowed fleeting references to Munchausen in the trial and jurors said they gave it little attention but believed Bush had harmed the girl.

Bush was later sentenced to five years in state prison. She appealed but lost. She was released in June 2005, after serving more than three years of her sentence. When state authorities moved to terminate her and her husband's parental rights to Jennifer, Bush initially fought but reached a settlement that cut her rights to the child but allowed her husband and sons to continue visiting Jennifer.

Courts barred Kathy Bush from seeing Jennifer for about six years, starting in 1999, but they began writing letters, supervised by a therapist, in 2004, and Jennifer asked to be allowed to resume seeing her mother in 2005 when she turned 18.

Broward prosecutors did not oppose her wishes and said they believed they had protected her until she was old enough to make her own choices.

As Jennifer Bush moves on with the happier phase of her life, she offered words of encouragement to other foster children who struggle:

"The odds are often against you to be successful in life. I challenge you to rise up against those odds, and be the very best you can be with the circumstances you are facing. Don't be ashamed or embarrassed to get the extra help that is offered, you will be thankful that you did in the future. There were many times that it would have been easier to give up, but it's persevering against the odds that makes it even more fulfilling. Speak up for yourself, be your biggest advocate, and be proactive. At the end of the day we owe it to ourselves. Don't let your current circumstance shape your future, and never doubt yourself!"

Source: Broward County Sun Sentinel

British mother Lorraine Hatfield was also falsely accused of Munchausen and forcibly separated from her son. They reunited a decade later but the trauma drove her to suicide.



Suicide of ‘loving mum’ Lorraine Hatfield who suffered depression after wrongly accused of harming child

Lorraine Hatfield
'LOVING MOTHER': Lorraine Hatfield took her own life after spiralling into depression when wrongly accused of having Munchausen syndrome by proxy

A LOVING mother who spiralled into depression after being wrongly accused of harming her child committed suicide, an inquest heard.

Mother-of-three Lorraine Hatfield, 48, was found hanged in her bedroom by her 19-year-old son Billy Steinman, two days after celebrating Christmas with her family.

Ms Hatfield, of Sewerby Court in Bridlington, had dedicated her life to caring for her children but was plagued by long term mental health problems, which led to her death on December 27 last year.

Ms Hatfield's eldest son Luke Steinman, 25, said he thinks many of his mother's problems stem from a false allegation that she suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

"I don't think she ever got over what happened," Mr Steinman said.

"I was sent to live with my grandparents because they thought mum was making me ill."

The allegation that she was harming her eldest child in order to seek attention from medical professionals was made 15 years ago when doctors failed to diagnose the cause of Mr Steinman's allergy-related illness.

He said his mother developed a deep mistrust of the NHS after he was removed from her care when she was wrongly accused of making her son ill.

Mr Steinman says this mistrust of mental health professionals contributed to her not receiving the care she needed.

"I don't think she received the right level of care, because nobody could understand the gravity of her situation or the root of her illness," Mr Steinman said.

"There was no sense of empathy or understanding of her situation. What she really needed was someone in the medical profession who she could develop a relationship with and trust.

"But it was different faces all the times and different people coming to the house."

Her daughter Jodie Steinman, 22, described Ms Hatfield as "a loving and caring mum".

"Our relationship with mum was perfect when we were growing up," she said.

"She was always taking us on trips and doing educational things.

"We are a very close family. Her death has had a big affect on me and my two brothers and she will be greatly missed by all of us."

Miss Steinman said her mother was a very intelligent and artistic woman who specialised in portraits.

However, an inquest into her death heard she became increasingly paranoid and delusional.

She was sectioned after a breakdown in July last year, but was treated by nursing professionals at her own home until being discharged from mental health services several months before her death.

Coroner Paul Marks recorded a verdict of suicide.

Syndrome explained

Munchausen's syndrome is where an individual pretends to be ill, or deliberately makes themselves ill, usually to gain the attention of medical professionals.

Munchausen's syndrome by proxy is used to describe a syndrome where a person deliberately makes another person, usually a child or dependent, ill or fabricates an illness.

Fabricating an illness on behalf of a child or elderly relative is considered a serious form of child abuse or neglect.

Source: Hull Daily Mail