Brittle Bone disease Child abuse
Family's 18 months of hell after two children are taken away when blundering social workers wrongly accuse them of breaking baby's limbs
By Luke Salkeld
Last updated at 10:56 AM on 17th August 2011
A couple were accused of child abuse after doctors failed to realise their baby son’s ‘injuries’ were caused by a genetic bone disease.
Both parents were arrested and prevented from seeing their children unsupervised for 18 months before their innocence was finally acknowledged.
Yesterday Amy Garland said she and her partner had been treated like criminals after they took their six-week-old son Harrison to hospital when he was ill.
Reunited: Amy Garland with her son Harrison, now three, and daughter Bethany, five
Initial tests proved inconclusive, but X-rays later showed that he had suffered eight separate fractures in his arms and legs.
Social services accused his parents of child abuse and took the baby and his elder sister into care.
Miss Garland and her partner Paul Crummey were arrested and banned from seeing their children alone before anyone realised that Harrison actually had brittle bone disease, or osteogenesis imperfecta.
Father: Paul Crummey
The rare condition is caused by a gene defect which impairs the production of the protein collagen, making bones fragile. Those with the disease can break their bones while being cuddled or even in their sleep. Around 40 to 60 babies are born with the isorder each year.
Miss Garland, 26, who lives near Bristol, said her family had been left in tatters after she and Mr Crummey split up over the stress caused by being separated from their children.
As soon as the fractures were discovered, social services were called in. The couple could not explain the apparent injuries and police arrested them.
Their daughter Bethany, then 20 months, was placed in the care of Miss Garland’s father. When the case went before Bristol County Court a judge ordered them to live in a family placement centre where their every move was observed.
Miss Garland said: ‘The judge didn’t want to separate me from Harrison because I was still breast feeding. We were watched 24 hours a day and there were cameras in every room. It was like a prison.’
After three months, staff could find nothing wrong with their parenting
skills and recommended that the family be allowed to stay together.
WHAT IS OSTEOGENESIS IMPERFECTA?
A person born with
such a defect can remain troubled by this throughout his or her life.
In addition to fractures people with OI often have muscle weakness, hearing loss, fatigue, joint laxity, curved bones, scoliosis, blue sclerae, dentinogenesis imperfecta (brittle teeth), and short stature.
But social workers applied for an interim care order and the children were placed into foster care with Miss Garland’s mother. They were allowed contact with their parents for six hours a day, under supervision.
This continued for more than a year until Miss Garland found an expert who said Harrison probably had osteogenesis imperfecta.
Six months later, doctors agreed that this was a possibility and South Gloucestershire Social Services dropped the case.
Miss Garland told last night how Harrison had been in obvious discomfort in the weeks after his birth, but hospital tests found nothing.
But when she got home she noticed his legs were swollen, and X-rays later showed he had several fractures in his arm, feet and legs.
Miss Garland said: ‘We had no idea that this condition was in our family so when they asked us how they happened we didn’t know.
Baby Harrison who was born with a genetic disorder causing his bones to brittle was taken from his parents after social workers believed his condition was a result of parental harm
‘They said they needed to investigate it and we were happy for them to do that. The police and social services asked us a lot of questions. They asked me if there was any family history of violence. The police spoke to our neighbours asking what we were like. They went through our house. I was in absolute shock. I felt like a criminal.’
Even in hospital, she was not allowed to be alone with her son. ‘I wasn’t eating and I couldn’t sleep because I was worried they would take him from me,’ she said.
The strain caused the couple to split up two months after the children went into foster care. Miss Garland said: ‘It was horrible. When I went home at night and the kids weren’t there, I broke down. We took things out on each other.’
A month after the case was finally dropped two years ago, Harrison was officially diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta. Bethany, now five, was found to have a lesser type of the condition.
The family thought they might not be able to enjoy the summer sunshine together again after Paul and Amy were arrested and banned from being alone with Bethany and Harrison
Harrison, now three and sister Bethany, five, enjoying themselves after being reunited with the parents having previously spent 18 months in care
Harrison still has vitamin D injections to strengthen his bones and sees a physiotherapist to build up his muscles.
Brittle bone disease is often confused with osteoporosis – thinning bones in women after the menopause – but the two are not the same.
Mr Crummey, 41, who recently lost his job as a civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, said: ‘All we wanted to do was help our sick child but we were treated like criminals. We’ve never received an apology from social services. It makes me feel very angry.’
A spokesman for South Gloucestershire Council said: ‘We have a legal duty to protect children and young people and we always put the welfare of the child at the heart of how we deliver our services.