photo of mother and child standing on the bridge

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When I was a social worker, I received a case where the mother of a five year-old girl kept barging into the school demanding to see the Head teacher, because, in her opinion, her child was being bullied and the school was doing nothing about it. When the visits to the school became too frequent, and when the mother took to actually interrupting the child’s lessons, the school called us.
In their opinion, the mother had a mental illness because the supposed instances of bullying simply weren’t happening. We spoke to the child alone and she was quite clear that she was being bullied. When we spoke to mother alone, however, we suspected that she was imagining the trouble and that her daughter was corroborating her story, just to please her.
The mother suffered trauma as a child and had a history of mental illness. The child’s father had left and re-married. When we spoke to him, he said his ex-wife had always had a clingy relationship with their daughter and got overly-anxious about the smallest of things.
When observing the dynamic between daughter and mother, it was clear to me that the two loved each other. I noted by the child’s body language that she was relaxed and happy with her mother.
The case went to court. There a couple of professional witnesses asserted that the mother was engaging in a form on Munchausen by proxy. This syndrome usually features a parent continually taking the child to a doctor with this or that illness, all of which prove to be a figment of his or her imagination. In this case, the mother thought her child was being harmed by other children. Different yes, but concern about the emotional harm to the child were the same.
The whole process was protracted and de-stabilising for the child. At first, she remained with her mother. However, when after school, the mother got hold of a boy, whom she perceived was being aggressive towards her daughter, and shook him, it was decided that the mother had become aggressive and that taking the daughter away from her was the safest option.
My line management felt that the child should remain apart from the mother permanently. I disagreed. While acknowledging that what the mother was doing was upsetting for the child, it was clear that the child loved her mother. Breaking the bond between them, therefore, could be even more traumatizing for her in the long term.
I argued, in my report that the mother saw the world as a hostile place, and she needed counselling, by a well-trained psychiatric professional. Although the mother still maintained that her child was being bullied, she did admit to me that she had problems and as such, was willing to work through them for the sake of getting her daughter back. She wanted to work with the Local Authority and undergo psychiatric help. This, I thought, should have gone a long way for the court to decide that the child could go home, as long as frequent social work and healthcare visits were made to the home, in the child’s interest.
In the event, the court disagreed. They granted a full Care Order on the child, who then had to remain in foster care, pending adoption.
I moved on shortly afterwards. But, I still think of it from time to time and how sad the outcome was for all concerned. I would love to know what other people think.


  1. rollercoasterrideonlife · November 13

    I think a child is the only therapy for a mother once she gives birth from her own blood, flesh and bones….I think considering the situation and the bond both shared, the mother could have been lured into a cure using the child as a prize. Eventually she would have done well I’m sure…then the child would grow up and once she knew her mother’s problem, the bond would grow and she herself could sanctify and keep her at peace maybe not completely heal her

    • Sandy Hyatt-James · November 13

      Thank you for your message. The comment about, when the child grows up and helping to heal her mother gave me pause, because it’s such a powerful thought. Would that I could turn the clock back.

      • rollercoasterrideonlife · November 13

        Yes it does because no one probably can heal neither harm a mother better or worse than her own child….the whole body takes birth from her…her every cell is infused into the child…eventually I have seen that even adopted children develop such strong connections with the mother that it works as best and as worse as their own child…

  2. rollercoasterrideonlife · November 13

    In India, there are several cases maybe not that severe or intense however the people around actually do keep such men and women in control and eventually their children

  3. Sandy Hyatt-James · November 13


  4. MH Thaung · November 13

    My partner used to be a CP social worker, and it can be incredibly difficult to decide what’s best in a given situation – and of course nobody can ever be sure. The uncertainty is something that people outside the system might not fully appreciate. Thanks for sharing.

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