In 2016, over 58,000 children were identified as being in need of protection. There is no doubt that child abuse is one of the most serious problems our society faces and social workers, doctors, health workers and police do an admirable job of trying to protect children from harm caused by family members.
In 1962, the term ‘battered-child syndrome’ was identified by Dr C Henry Kempe. It is difficult to state the cultural impact this study had on politicians and the medical community. For the first time, child abuse was recognised as a common and regular occurrence in family life, rather than a sensational exception. And what shocked people to the core was the irrefutable evidence that abuse of children occurred in ‘nice families’ not just those trapped by ignorance and poverty. “Beating of children,” the article noted, “is not confined to people with a psychopathic personality or of borderline socioeconomic status. It also occurs among people with good education and stable financial and social background.”
The authoring of the article came about because Dr Kempe and his colleagues wanted to understand the cause of inexplicable and regular injuries they frequently encountered in infants and children, such as bruising, fractures and convulsions, which occurred without any history of trauma. As was chillingly stated in the article, “The bones tell a story the child is too young or too frightened to tell”.
Over the past 56 years, since the publication of The Battered Child Syndrome, authorities have taken child abuse seriously. However, the flipside to this is innocent parents often face, at best, an unpleasant grilling by doctors and/or health visitors if they seek medical attention for an injury. At worst, they can be plunged into a nightmare scenario of prosecution and having their child or children removed by social workers.
Forced to miss the first precious months of their baby’s life
In January 2018, parents Gina Hodgkins and Joshua Sparkes appeared on Good Morning to tell their story about being falsely accused of harming their child. A routine check-up with a health visitor turned into a five-month nightmare for the couple after she spotted bruises on their baby’s cheeks and legs. It later emerged that the bruises were actually caused by a genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). However, this was only discovered at court, after both Ms Hodgkins and Mr Sparkes were charged and had their children removed and placed in foster care.
Ms Hodgkin’s solicitors were able to convince the judge presiding over the criminal case to admit the fresh evidence which conclusively showed the baby suffered from EDS.
A social worker who appeared on the Good Morning show stated:
“The reality is that the time in your whole life when you’re most likely to be killed is when you’re aged under one… and bruising in non-mobile babies should always be seen in the light of being abused. And that’s the reality we’re dealing with,” she said.
“Nothing can take away what happened to this couple, but that’s the reality, that’s what we see again and again and again”.
Conflicting evidence of child abuse – shaken baby syndrome and vitamin D deficiency
Late last year, journalist, Will Storr, published a long-read piece in The Guardian entitled, “We Believe You May Have Harmed Your Child”. The article discusses the controversy regarding the diagnosis of shaken-baby syndrome, a condition which has seen many innocent parents charged with child-abuse and forced to fight to have their children returned to them and charges dropped.
Essentially, there are three signs to indicate head trauma in babies; swelling of the brain, bleeding on the brain’s surface and blood behind the retinas. This is known as the ‘triad’
and medical professionals have been trained to believe if the triad is found, there is evidence the infant has been brutally shaken, even if no other evidence of injury is found on the body.
However, this theory has been repeatedly debunked. In 2016, a major study in Sweden looked at 1,000 cases where the triad symptoms were present in babies. The study failed to find conclusive evidence that the parents were the cause of the trauma.
Another controversial area where abuse can be alleged is when a child presents with fractures. In some cases, following the parents being prosecuted for abuse, it has transpired the child had Rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency, often due to spending too much time indoors.
Actions to take if you are accused of harming your child
If you are accused of child abuse, regardless of your disbelief and indignation, you must contact a family solicitor immediately. It cannot be emphasised enough that authorities make no distinction between income, education and social position; if the injuries are there and a suspicion raised, they have a legal duty to follow the case through to its conclusion.
A family law solicitor will immediately collate expert medical evidence and witness statements to prove your innocence. In addition, they can work with social services to have your children returned to you as soon as possible if they have been removed.
Larry Wolff eloquently summed up the impact The Battered Child Syndrome article had on society following its publication when he stated. “Every medical student, every police officer, every teacher, is fully aware of the dark side of family life, and the possibility that children are victims and parents are perpetrators”.
Although we must ensure children are protected from abuse at all costs, many believe the pendulum has swung too far, causing innocent parents to be prosecuted and lose custody of their children, sometimes for years at a time.
At Hart Reade, each of our family law solicitors are members of Resolution. In addition, many of our team are Collaborative Lawyers. These organisations advocate for the use of non-confrontational methods for resolving family law disputes.
We can provide advice and represent you if you have been accused of harming your child. To talk to any of the family law team, please call us on 01323 727 321.
Please note, this article does not constitute legal advice.
 Kempe Dr C Henry, The Battered Child Syndrome, Journal of the American Medical Association, AMA. 1962;181(1):17-24