Fiona Hamilton, Crime Editor of the Times reports on the case of a mother who forced her own children to have unnecessary surgery, as part of a fraudulent £375,000 benefits claim.
The mother apparently encouraged her son to show signs of autism, resisted attempts by nursery staff to toilet train him and gave him steroids for non-existent asthma. She also managed to persuade surgeons to perform surgery on her son. He underwent an irreversible gastrostomy operation.
The mother was jailed for seven and a half years at Croydon Crown Court.
During the course of the criminal trial, it was revealed that one paediatrician raised the alarm in 2010, but was rebuffed by colleagues. The mother was eventually arrested in 2013.
The mother was found guilty of various charges of child cruelty and fraud. Although there will have been reporting restrictions on the identity of this family, it is likely that care proceedings were initiated in relation to the children some time ago.
This is as sinister a case of child cruelty as can be imagined, but the NHS is aware of other cases, where illness was fabricated or induced for financial reasons.
However there is a recognised psychiatric disorder, "Fabricated or induced illness" (FII), which is a rare form of child abuse. FII occurs when a parent or carer, exaggerates or deliberately causes symptoms of illness in the child.
FII is also known as Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, but healthcare professionals in the UK prefer to use the term fabricated or induced illness, or factitious disorder imposed on another. The term Munchausen's syndrome by proxy was the subject of great controversy some years ago in the media.
FII covers a wide range of cases and behaviours, ranging from extreme neglect to induced illness. One study found that almost half of mothers who were known to have fabricated or induced illness in their child were victims of physical and sexual abuse during their own childhood.
The condition is still relatively rare. The British Paediatric Surveillance Unit (BPSU), carried out a study of FII cases. It identified 97 cases of FII in the UK over a two-year period. However many cases may be going unreported.
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer