Let me tell you about the latest wrinkle in the saga of the family I called the "Smiths" (Viewpoint, WDDTY vol 11 no 3). As you may recall, Social Services took the issue of slight underweight (a trait shared by many on the baby's maternal side of the family) and proceeded to build an entire case of parental "failure to attend to the baby's medical needs" around what were well informed decisions about alternative health care. Refusal to give their newborn injected vitamin K, the Guthrie (heel prick) test or vaccinations that is, refusal to conform to the views of the 'professionals' resulted in an interim care order and the Smiths being placed in a family centre for 24 hour surveillance for about four months. The long hooks of Social Services were firmly sunk in.
The Smiths have now been let out of the family centre, but have been ordered to live with Joe Smith's parents. This has caused no end of friction between the couple. Joe's parents smoke in front of the baby, against Lisa's wishes. His mother is critical of everything Lisa does and has firmly sided with Social Services in blaming the baby's underweight on her daughter in law even though Lisa sought the advice of three health professionals. Lisa has no privacy and no self determination. Disabled from a botched knee operation, she is forced to live in a house with stairs that she has to continually negotiate just to go to the loo. Joe is torn, trying to keep the peace.
Relations between Lisa and Joe, which had been "extremely" happy for 12 years, are now strained to the point where the word divorce has crept into the conversation. They've been advised to have separate lawyers in dealing with Social Services.
The Smiths are convinced they could save their relationship if they were able to proceed with their plans, but Social Services are firmly standing in the way. Lisa and Joe have put in an offer on a three bedroom house and are soon to exchange contracts. Joe, a former bricklayer who has studied to be a financial advisor, would like to go and seek permanent work in Wales.
Lisa's extended and supportive family live there and are happy to assist with the rearing of the baby. The best school in the area has accepted baby Alex. They would like to get off state benefits.
Social Services, however, doesn't believe Joe should work because Lisa is disabled, even though she says she is perfectly able to get around on her "one and a half legs", particularly in the new house which has facilities all on one floor.
Their future rests with the psychological and paediatric assessments, due in August, as to whether they are fit to keep the baby and then just to move to Wales. A court case next January will determine whether Social Services can still retain joint control over Alex until he is school age.
This case isn't about the health of Alex who, at six months, is a bruiser between the 75th and 91st percentile in height and weight. This case is about professionals asserting rather arbitrary control. The problem is that Lisa is a bit like Randle P. McMurphy, the Jack Nicholson character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She gets a bit prickly with mindless authority indeed, her major sin, she's been told, is that she doesn't listen to professionals. She's also been accused of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, paranoia and, the latest, fabricating illnesses.
Lisa is wary of professionals for good reason. She's disabled because of a number of botched knee operations. She had an appendix operation that turned septic and has had numerous other incidents in hospital. She knows health professionals are not infallible and she doesn't mind saying so.
The Smiths are seeking the counsel of a lawyer recommended by WDDTY, but can't get represented until legal aid is approved. If anyone would like to contribute to the Smith's legal fighting fund, please send lb1 or more by cheque to our London offices made out to 'Smiths Fighting Fund', and we will see that it goes to helping these poor people get out from under the clutches of the
Nurse Ratcheds of Nottingham.