I’d have been the same. I would’ve thought “I bet there is more to this story, a whole ‘other side.’ There will be something legitimate that triggered the Social Care referral, I bet.”
That is until I read the contents of Peter’s school and local authority (LA) files. To say it was interesting is an understatement; I literally shook in shock for three days. What had gone on behind the scenes, completely unknown to me, was like a never ending horror story. I remember crying and screaming hysterically over and over down the phone to one someone “They will never, ever, stop and there is nothing I can do. They won’t stop. They just won’t stop.” That is how it felt, and that is what, in fact, had happened over the preceding three plus years behind the scenes…. What I had read was a relentless stream of harmful rubbish – documented as fact. Years of senior teaching staff fairly frantically looking for an explanation as to why Peter was ‘fine’ and the medical teams were wrong. I was caught in the crossfire by describing the difficulties that he had and asking for help.
It had gone unchallenged despite the fact that none of it made any sense. Some professionals acted as protagonists, actively encouraging it like it was an exciting bit of gossip. These were fed more information by the Head Teacher leading the ‘campaign’. Some walked away. Some had tried in vain to put forward another view only to find that it fell on deaf ears. The latter two groups were largely ignored by the protagonists and their advice and recommendations for Peter were subsequently ignored. Those professionals were gossiped about too and their recommendations (literally in one case) were thrown back at them.
When posting ‘the book’ I made the decision to remove the more direct references to this whole underhand and unsafe practice, as I felt that the readers would struggle, as I would have done, not to think “There must be more to this.”
Whilst reading the book one person did write a very genuine question on a forum, about why? What? I don’t get it…? Is something missing?
It was at that time that another member of the forum introduced the idea of confirmation bias which in combination with unconscious incompetence explains a good deal of it. The rest may in part be explained by a deal of rigidity on the part of certain staff, the need to be right at all costs and the avoidance of actually understanding and meeting Peter’s needs.
So just this week I have received an email from someone reading the blogs to say that they talk to groups about the experiences’ of parents. All tends to go swimmingly until the mention of the misuse of safeguarding allegations against parents in SEN… “It is almost as if they are conditioned to disbelieve the rest of my presentation – that if ‘safeguarding are involved,’ the parents must be wrong.”
I wonder if, in part, it is their subconscious protecting them “It couldn’t happen to me because it only happens to people who aren’t like me…. only to people who really do abuse and neglect children.“
Let me tell you, it can happen to you.
A seed of doubt is raised, a cloud of suspicion covers you and just won’t shift it no matter how ridiculous, ill-founded or malicious the ‘suspicion’ is. So big is this problem that I continue to be concerned about publishing this post yrs later. Will the readers and followers of this blog suddenly see everything differently? Will it cast a shadow of doubt over everything else I have written? Will people fall away thinking “There must be more to this?” I hope not, but I have decided to continue with this story. I feel this is a practice in SEN that must be better explored, questioned, shared and exposed.
In my case concerns were raised repeatedly and secretly for years. Initially, because they couldn’t ‘see’ the diagnosis. They couldn’t see what they weren’t trained to notice and they were too arrogant to think that something may exist that they couldn’t see. They followed no logical thought processes, it seems. There was an apparent inability to understand that other professionals working with children may know something that they didn’t.
Then confirmation bias set in, alongside my old favourite – unconscious incompetence. It is easy to see from the notes that some non-teaching staff were really quite excited by supporting the more senior staff to uncover some terrible secret. One, in particular, did absolutely everything in her power to support uncover ‘the secret’. Others were clearly happy to be complicit; evidenced by the cheery gossipy emails “How was the home visit” and the reply, “Interesting, call me”. I have no idea what was so ‘interesting’ about the EP visit, other than the meltdown caused by Peter expecting sausages in bread when I was planning sausage and mash!
So here is the sting….. In our case, a Social Care referral had been made with my knowledge and consent soon after Peter was diagnosed. It was to see if we could access additional support. No support could be offered and no concerns were raised. Yes really. We had already been assessed. There are records to show that the protagonists knew this, yet they continued on relentlessly for more than a further two and a half years. This information would also have been easy to access by the ‘senior adviser to safeguarding in schools’ at the LA. Yet records show she was more excited to be joining in the drama than she was to check out the facts and put a stop to the treatment we were subjected to.
I must raise the issue at this point that much of the concern was raised because of a general disbelief about Peter’s diagnosis. However, this disbelief was never formally pursued and, even if staff had wanted to, there seems to be no precedent or protocol for this. Had it been, there were plenty of opportunities for school staff to properly understood the nature of his difficulties (it is well documented that his CAMHS team and OT were willing to do whatever was necessary to support this). However, I don’t believe that the school staff wanted this to be resolved. They didn’t want to understand, they wanted to be right.
Maybe they also wanted to avoid having to make some minor provision for Peter, and of course all of the time they were recording and telling each other that ‘we don’t see it’ then they were apparently under no obligation to meet those needs.
It is of note that these ‘concerns’ are not actually described anywhere over the years, although there were hints at ‘mother is anxious’ and also at Fabricating and Inducing Illness (FII). To me it seems impossible that I could be both. Either I am an incapable wreck, or I incredibly able and pathologically skilled at manipulation (in order to manipulate Peter and professionals to an extreme, explained in greater detail later).
We have a fabulous guest blogger who will write all of the official ‘stuff’ about FII in the next few days, however, there are four points that I would like to raise about this here.
Firstly, six weeks after Peter was admitted to the Tier 4 unit 150 miles from home there is a Social Care file note that states “school think Peter is fine and that Mum is Fabricating,” so let’s just break this down. This file note was made:
- four and a half years after the School Nurse referred Peter to CAMHS for anxiety, and the specialist social worker there had assessed him and deemed it necessary for him to see a Clinical Psychologist. The CP had assessed him at home, school and in clinic over the next few months and had supported Peter since. This was Tier 2 CAMHS;
- three years after his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. The key assessment for this was carried out by a second, completely independent Clinical Psychologist renowned for having a deep interest in ASD. He knew nothing of Peter before the assessment and so in a way provided an internal second opinion;
- almost 3 years after Peter was first seen by a Child Psychiatrist for anxiety. Staff changes had meant that over the years he had been seen by 3 psychiatrists and a community paediatrician. None questioned his diagnosis. He had been prescribed medication for his anxiety. This was Tier 3 CAMHS;
- 2 years after he had been seen and assessed by an experienced OT with post-graduate qualifications in sensory processing. She also saw no reason to question the diagnosis.
- 2 years after he was seen by a GP in a distressed state in Year 3 who also supported the diagnosis;
- 4 months after his breakdown and assessment by 2, multidisciplinary Tier 4 CAMHS teams. They were independent of each other and the local Tier 3 CAMHS and geographically about 180 miles apart;
- 6 weeks after he had begun living away from me in a Tier 4 ward and had also been assessed there by the specialist teachers.
Yet the only contribution school could offer to the assessment was “We think Peter is fine and mum is fabricating.”
You have to ask – “Tell me again who it is that is causing this child harm?” One of the tier 4 assessments concluded that his mental health difficulties could be attributed to “a magnitude of difficulties including his significant learning challenges, his sensory issues and the difficulties relating to his peers and most likely bullying” and “He also appears to have trauma symptoms from his previous educational experiences.”
The degree of obsession demonstrated by school and LA professionals in Peter’s case is extreme, but I don’t believe that it is unusual for groups of people like this to become fixated and blinkered. It feels to me as though neither their training nor the culture they work in supports the development of sound judgement through self-awareness and reflective practice.
Secondly, I would like to raise the issue of a particular group of children for whom there suddenly seems to be ‘safeguarding concerns’.
I do wonder what the proportion of safeguarding referrals relating to families previously unknown to social care are made when the child is diagnosed with, or suspected to have, SEND and one of the following scenarios occurs:
- there is a dispute of the diagnosis (see Disagreement over Diagnosis), or;
- there is a dispute of provision, or;
- a complaint is made to school about the support to their child, or;
- the parent makes a request for a copy of their child’s records.
I think this needs investigating, I really do. With regard to the last point, the following note was made on social media on a thread relating a school that was being obstructive about providing a copy of a child’s records to the parents:
“3 days after we asked for files they reported us to SS. SS threw it out as ridiculous but every time we tried to get info they tried again to refer to SS. We got this information from our last Subject Access Request. I’m telling you this because it’s something schools do apparently in an effort to get you to leave. Our school alone did this to four other families and succeeded” and they followed with:
“We had to take our child out of school … We kept him on the roll while they did everything to get us to de-register including prosecution orders while the ECHP was going through. Our outreach team even called and said ‘are you keeping him in school? Most people withdraw their kids after school has called SS’. That’s when the penny dropped and I put a post on FB and found it was already commonly known as something schools do to try and get you to leave. I was approached by a mother some months after we left and she told us they left after they were reported to SS ……. Turns out 4 families left the school and all had SEN kids. (used with permission of the author).
Have you noticed that when there is a disagreement over diagnosis that the next step is to BLAME THE PARENT? Not question the diagnosing team, to have a professional to professional discussion, but to BLAME THE PARENT. It is completely illogical. Yet it does suit those with the power and authority. This could be prevented of course if there was national guidance published on how to resolve a disagreement.
No-one challenged any of the staff that pursued the allegations against us to my knowledge. Yet as graduates with a ‘professional standing’ surely they should have to account for their assumptions? Not initially, I understand that it is right that hunches should be followed to protect children from harm. However, after one assessment has ruled out concerns and when it goes on for more than 3 years? There has to come to a point where those ‘raising suspicions’ should be expected to have something substantial to say? This leads me to point three, accountability.
Thirdly I would like to ask about accountability. At what point should some logical questions be asked?
Why was the safeguarding policy not followed? Good practice would dictate that the first thing that any professional should do is inform the parents unless it is believed that this would give rise to the imminent threat of serious harm. There should have been a discussion with me each time a concern was raised. Yet it went on for more than three years and I had no clue. Everyone involved knew that I had not been informed of any of the concerns they were discussing. It seems that the only time anyone might be concerned about the failure to follow safeguarding policy is when the child has come to harm at the hands of the parents. It’s not important, it seems, if failures to follow procedure leads to harm because of the behaviour of the professionals.
Fourthly there is the issue of teaching of safeguarding
Someone recently wrote “I have just been on yet another safeguarding course for a course I’m on and it’s definitely drilled in at even the most basic level that there’s ‘no smoke without fire ‘ (LADOs own words) and that, if professionals are involved, they should be believed over parents/carers as they have ‘nothing to gain by lying’.”
How unbelievably naive! I have listed here just some of the reasons staff may have for ‘lying’ and there are more. The most obvious being the perverse incentives that the new funding from SEND (outlined more here).
I have no doubt that this practice isn’t uncommon. It seems to be an open secret. Other professionals know and I wonder what they think about it? If they think about it? If it’s all too difficult to think about?
Is there anything that professionals outside of teaching can do in fact? I wonder if they understand how crippling it feels? Are they worried complaints will be made about them? That they won’t be able to help children in the future if they make ripples in the more complex cases now?
To anyone who is still wondering about ‘smoke and fire’, just to let you know that another social care assessment was carried out whilst Peter was in hospital – to inform the EHCP. No concerns were raised. The Tier 4 CAMHS consultant was very clear also. There. Are. No. Concerns.
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