Our baby was just a few months old when they collapsed at home and our lives changed forever.
It had been a lovely day. We’d been out walking and playing in a forest that morning with our children and friends and that afternoon we’d hankered down inside, in the warm, enjoying the slowness of life with a young baby. Life was as good as it had ever have been. We were happy and so were our kids.
However, our baby hadn’t had the easiest of arrivals into this world from an eventful birth to more than one A&E visit as well as appointments and phone calls with Paediatricians and our Health Visitor. Each time we were constantly reassured that there was nothing to worry about.
On this day however, another episode began which eventually led to our baby collapsing at home whilst in my partner’s care whilst I was briefly outside of the house. My partner was in complete shock but thankfully I arrived home in time to begin CPR with the help of the 999 Operator.
When the Ambulance Crew arrived, they took over from me and told me I could travel with them in the ambulance. I watched as my baby was having seizure after seizure in the back of the ambulance then as A&E staff tried and failed to revive my baby. Eventually our baby was put into an induced coma. An initial CT scan of our baby’s brain revealed that they had what the Consultant described as a ‘small bleed on the outside of the brain’. At first, I tried to think positively and that at least they’d found out what was wrong with our child. I imagined that a ‘small’ bleed ‘outside’ of the brain might mean that they would recover quickly with the right care. But it was the questioning from the Consultant that I wasn’t expecting. The Consultant asked me if I knew how the bleed could’ve happened. Had my baby had an accident or hit their head? I was surprised by the question and explained that they hadn’t. I assumed this answer would be fine and they would immediately start running some tests to find out why our baby was so ill. Then the Consultant said that due to the circumstances they would need to contact Social Services. I was confused and immediately asked him why. He answered, ‘Because of Shaken Baby Syndrome’. And that’s when I felt the floor give way beneath me.
Our baby was transferred to our nearest large hospital for specialist Paediatric ICU Care.
Two days later, an MRI scan revealed that our baby had suffered a subdural haemorrhage and retinal haemorrhages and in the absence of any known accident that we could think of, we were being accused of non-accidental injury. The mood in the hospital changed immediately and suddenly the staff became guarded, quiet and far less friendly. We were told that a Police Officer and Social Worker would be coming that evening to meet us at the hospital. We were terrified. We have never dealt with the Police or Social Workers in our lives and could never have imagined being a family that would need to. We were questioned and again asked if we knew what had happened. We couldn’t think of any reason for our baby’s injuries. We felt completely lost, vilified and alone. We were advised to find a lawyer and we were told that we couldn’t return home to see our other child who was just a toddler and being taken care of by Grandparents. If we disagreed, Social Services would apply for an Emergency Protection Order to prevent us doing so. We obviously agreed to abide by whatever rules were necessary to ensure that we could see our children in whatever way possible.
Finding a lawyer was a daunting prospect. We had no idea what type of lawyer we needed. No support was offered to help us so we frantically contacted friends we knew who worked in law firms and a friend who was a Police Officer for some advice. All the while our baby was on a ventilator in intensive care needing us close by and we were stuck on the phone in the hospital canteen trying to find a lawyer. It felt like utter madness. Initially we were advised to each find a ‘local’ family lawyer as ‘they know everyone in your local Social Services and will be able to negotiate better for you’. We each chose the best local family lawyer we could find to represent us. Having a lawyer each is good advice as it gives you both the chance to be heard and challenge Social Services if bad decisions are made during Care Proceedings. Two voices rather than one.
However, it quickly became obvious that our baby’s case was medically complex, as many NAI cases are, and local family lawyers don’t have regular experience of NAI cases. That’s when I am so incredibly grateful that I came across Rachel Carter’s website, Parents Accused.
I contacted her from the hospital and she instantly came back to me and agreed to take me on as her client. I felt utterly relieved. Finally, I had someone on my side who had lots of experience of these cases to guide us through the process.
In the end, it took a whole year to get our case heard in Court, more than double the normal length of Care Proceedings due to new medical complexities that emerged relating to our baby. During this time, our children were placed under an Interim Care Order. Our baby came out of intensive care and went to live with close family members who lived many miles away which was painful and exhausting, travelling hours each week just to be with them whilst supervised at all times. We were told our eldest child would also have to live away from us until Care Proceedings ended. We were deeply concerned about the long-term emotional damage this would do to our eldest child who was already showing signs of distress from being taken away. We fought relentlessly for their return home and, exceptionally, we managed to secure this after 5 months although not without restrictions.
Every day during Care Proceedings felt like a battle - to see our children under strict supervision, to cope with the endless restrictions on our lives and our children’s lives and the constant worry that our children would be damaged from the experience and worst, be adopted permanently and we would never see them again. It felt unbearable at times.
Rachel was a great listener and advisor to me during this time. She patiently tolerated my rants and frustration at the most difficult of times. She was always calm and measured and had a lot of experience and previous cases that she could draw from to help me imagine a way forward and stay focused.
In the end, our case was extremely complex but thanks to excellent representation organised by Rachel, I was fully exonerated, and we won our children back.
Despite this success, there is no joy at the end of Care Proceedings. There is precious time to make up with the children you lost and we, and our wider family, are forever changed by the experience. However, somehow, we survived and our children are home and thriving and for that we are eternally grateful to Rachel and her team.