Fabricated or Induced Illness
For those that haven't heard this term, it's what used to be called Munchausen's syndrome by proxy (MSBP) and it's an accusation that a parent (usually the mother) has fabricated their child's illness. It's rare for someone to be successfully prosecuted (and regarded as really rare in legal circles), but an increasing number of parents are being accused of FII and some of these cases do reach court. Not Fine In School surveys found that 18% of parents had been accused of FII in 2018 (1661 respondents) rising to 23% in 2020 (661 respondents). Worryingly, if it progresses to court, a 'not guilty' verdict is insufficient for it to be redacted from an individual's record and so it can continue to cause problems, for example if your child has an accident in later years and ends up in A&E. The group Fiightback has been raising awareness of this issue for many years.
It's a growing problem for parents whose child faces barriers to attendance at school for reasons that cannot be easily identified by professionals. If a parent feels there is something wrong with their child, and the medical profession cannot identify the cause, then it can quickly be seen as an over-anxious parent (at best) or a parent whose behaviour is actively harming their child (at worst). This then slides quickly into to Child Protection territory and potentially FII. It’s the threat and scrutiny of it being escalated which has huge consequences, similar to the threat of fines and prosecution around attendance.
Square Peg Director, Ellie, recently shared her personal story of being accused of FII and discussed our concerns in a webinar by Sinclairslaw, hosted by Mike Charles. It highlights this issue in some detail, with a particular focus on autism (although it's important to note that accusations of FII are not restricted to children or parents with autism). The panel comprised:
1. Ellie, Square Peg Director and parent with lived experience
2. Cathleen Long - specialist independent social work practitioner who received a Professional Learning Award Outstanding achievement (Autism) in 2017
3. Dr Judy Eaton - Clinical Psychologist with special interest in neurodevelopmental disorders in both children and adults.
4. Dr Fiona Gullon-Scott - leading academic at Newcastle University and clinician specialising in Autism Spectrum Conditions.
5, Professor Andrew Bilson - from the University of Lancashire and adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia and visiting researcher at Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge.
This is a really important issue that urgently needs addressing. See the webinar here: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=4149527408432528&id=482350958483543