There is considerable evidence to suggest that increasing numbers of parents are experiencing allegations that they have fabricated or actually induced their child’s illness (FII). FII is a term adopted by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health – in essence – to replace what was previously referred to as ‘Munchausen syndrome by proxy’. It is generally accepted that FII is a rare (or very rare) condition.
Special Needs Jungle has been at the forefront of organisations raising these concerns and in consequence, in 2022 our research unit at the School of Law, The University of Leeds (the Cerebra Legal Entitlements and Problem-solving programme (LEaP)) undertook research to assess the prevalence and the impact of allegations of this kind.
Distressing and profound questions raised
Our research, just published, raises profound and distressing questions. Its major finding is one of family trauma: that the making of FII allegations have a devastating and often life-long impact on families – including their children – the very people the system is supposed to protect.
It finds that allegations of this kind appear to be widespread and increasing. Parents in at least 74% of England’s children’s services authorities have experienced FII allegations. Authorities in Scotland and Wales were also reported as initiating allegations of this nature. The research finds that in over 80% of cases, the allegation of FII resulted in no follow up-action (or any such action was abandoned) and that in 95% of the cases the child(ren) remained living with the parent.
Disabled parents especially targeted by FII allegations
The research finds that disabled parents appear to be four times more likely to be accused of FII than non-disabled parents - suggesting (in the absence of explanation) widespread unlawful disability discrimination. This is a risk that a number of commentators have highlighted, but our empirical research provides strong evidence that this is not simply a theoretical risk – it is happening in practice and most particularly affecting neurodiverse parents.
Another very troubling finding is that in over 50% of reported cases, the FII allegation was made after the parent carer had complained about the actions of the relevant public body. The report calls for urgent action to revise the guidance published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in 2021: guidance that fails:
- to recognise the harm to parents and children caused by allegations of FII;
- to address the danger that its ‘alerting signs’ may have an unlawful discriminatory impact on disabled parents; and
- to acknowledge that its ‘alerting signs’ (of FII) are unsupported by any peer-reviewed research.
A copy of our research report can be access by clicking here, where you can also find more detailed information about the following key messages:
FII Research Key Messages
- FII allegations against parents of disabled children appear to be widespread. The research indicates that parents in at least 74 per cent of English children’s
services authorities have experienced FII allegations – and that authorities in Scotland and Wales were also reported as initiating allegations of this nature
- The major finding of the research is one of family trauma. The making of an allegation often causes devastating and life-long trauma to those accused (para
- Disabled parents appear to be four times more likely to be accused of FII than non-disabled parents – raising important questions concerning Equality Act 2010
compliance (paras 5.14).
- 50% of allegations of FII reported for this research were made after a parent carer had complained about the actions of the relevant public body (para 5.21).
- There is an urgent need for material revisions to be made to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) 2021 FII guidance1 including revisions:
(1) to address its failure to recognise the harm to parents and children caused by allegations of FII; (2) to address the danger that its ‘alerting signs’ may have an
adverse discriminatory impact on disabled parents; and (3) to acknowledge that its ‘alerting signs’ are unsupported by any peer-reviewed research.
- It appears that most FII allegations (84 per cent) resulted in no follow up-action or were abandoned and that in 95 per cent of the cases the child(ren) remained
living with the parent (paras 5.06 - 5.07) – which is unsurprising, given that FII is generally accepted as a very rare condition and research suggests that the
RCPCH guidance is likely to give rise to a very high number of ‘false positives’ (paras 2.50 and 5.08).
- The research indicates that NHS practitioners were the source of most FII allegations, followed by schools and then local authority children’s services (para
- Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII) and Perplexing Presentations – New guidance for social work practitioners
- Urgent change is needed to stop the institutional culture of parent-carer blaming
- Protecting Parents from False Allegations of Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII)
- Survey reveals “systemic bias” of professionals and parental blame linked to family profiling of autistic children with Pathological Demand Avoidance
- Working Together to Safeguard Children: An important consultation
- Parent-blaming to avoid professional accountability is a human rights issue
- “Global wellbeing” is out of reach while children and vulnerable adults are routinely restrained in places of “safety”
- Racial discrimination and SEND: Why was I accused of harm?
- What schools need to know to support learners with hypermobility and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Know your child’s rights to social care support
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- Research finds unfounded FII accusations cause “devastating and often life-long impact on children and families” and over 80% of allegations dropped - November 15, 2023
- Working Together to Safeguard Children: An important consultation - August 18, 2023
- Urgent change is needed to stop the institutional culture of parent-carer blaming - July 23, 2021