( the following contains references to blatant child abuse. Those sensitive to such issues may find it upsetting)

I'm going to preface this with a short anecdote. When my wife and I first moved to this country there was a cat in the neighborhood who seemed to lack the motherhood instinct. She was feral and promiscuous as only a cat can be and was known for having her kittens anywhere at all and then abandoning them. In a ditch, once, during a rainstorm. In a coal store full of finely ground coal dust. And once in someone's home when they were away on vacation. The owner returned to find a clutch of half starved, still blind kittens, and no mom. Most died, mercifully. One survived but so damaged by vitamin deficiency that his co-ordination was impaired and he had frequent fits. Naturally my wife adopted him. We called him Sloe Berry. It was pathetic watching the little mite approaching a dish of milk, trembling with concentration, bend down to lick and fall on his face in the milk. However, Sloe Berry was growing and doing OK, until we decided to get him a friend, a lovely little tabby kitten his own age. She climbed, explored, jumped, all with that inimitable feline grace. Call me an old softy, but one of the images that will remain always is Sloe Berry looking up at the athletic little tabby , his earnest bulging eyes wide with adoration...We called the tabby Esmeralda, because, well, you just had to see them together. Shortly thereafter, Sloe Berry died.

That was just to get you in the mood. If you happened to read Munchausen syndrome by proxy you'll know that my wife had called for a Child Protection Meeting in the case of a young girl she was seeing in therapy whose mother kept canceling sessions for increasingly bizarre medical reasons. In a Child Protection Meeting, the protocol is for the various services involved, Social, Health, Education, and the Police to meet sub rosa . I mean, this is serious business.

I was waiting when my wife arrived home from work the day of the meeting with a face like thunder and I braced myself for the explosion.

Me: So what happened?

Wife: Oh, these people...first of all, we were the ones who expressed concern. We weren't supposed to be supplying the evidence, that was the responsibility of the services involved.

M: I'm guessing nobody had any evidence?

W: Oh there was plenty of evidence. The mother had gone to four separate hospitals reporting symptoms of increasing severity. The poor kid had three MRI scans, an EKG , several courses of antibiotics...in the end the conclusion was it was some sort of inner ear infection.

M: Wait a minute. Where were they getting all the symptoms from?

W: The mother of course. The child was too traumatized to say anything. I'd imagine they'd ask her and she'd agree with whatever the mother said.

M: Traumatized?

W: Do you have any idea how undermining it is for a child to admit her mother is trying to harm her? They'll convince themselves of anything rather than admit it.

M: But surely the neurologist...

W: You don't think a Neurologist actually saw this girl, do you? Mostly except in very severe cases the patients are seen by a staff member and they submit their findings to the head of the department.

M: (shaking head) And no one thought to check back into her history and see that these symptoms actually made no sense taken all together...

W: They won't admit they were too busy to check. They said that something was obviously wrong but they weren't sure what. They claim they were unaware of the fact that the mother dragged her daughter to four separate hospitals. That is classic MBP behavior.

M: What about Education? What about all those behavioral problems the mother claimed Child X had that the school had never heard of?

W: Well, the mother denies she ever claimed that. She said I must have misunderstood her.

M: Oh, come on. Surely the Social Services have records on this mother; you said the family had been on the Register from the beginning.

W: There's a thing like Stockholm Syndrome that happens to social workers. The Head of the Service has been totally brainwashed by their involvement with this family, to the point that she identifies with the mother and believes everything she says. You have to understand that MBP parents can be extremely clever at manipulating people and gaining their sympathy.

M: What about the police? Weren't they at the meeting?

W: Well, since no felony was under discussion they originally said they had nothing to contribute. ( sits down and refills her wine glass) But the thing was, they have records on this family too, going back to the time they were called out when her oldest son – remember I told you about him?- tried to assault the mother with a crowbar.

M: Geez. So there's a whole history, it's not just Child X.

W: That was when a whole lot of other stuff started to come out. Social Services never told us about the other siblings; and it appears that the person who sexually abused Child X was her maternal Grandfather. There is reason to believe that all of the other children were victims of assault as well.

M: Wait a minute. The Maternal Grandfather? That would mean that...

W: Yeah, it's all too likely that the mother and her siblings were also victims of abuse. ( sighs wearily and shakes her head) It's almost as if her own children were offered up to their grandfather to protect the mother..I don't care if the Practice does come under fire for this. I'm glad we made the referral, Child X needs to be taken out of there.

M: You mean they aren't maintaining confidentiality? I thought that was the law in cases like this.

W: Only if the Child Protection criteria are fulfilled. And that will only happen if everyone concerned admits they screwed up. (laughs bitterly) Everyone has a dog in the race...

M: Meaning?

W: Everybody wants to win and be blameless. Nobody really cares about Child X, that's how these things happen.

You may be wondering what relevance the story of Sloe Berry had to this account. Very little, I suppose- only- what do you suppose is the experience of children as damaged as child X when they encounter the wider world? Always supposing they live that long.

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