Five possible causes for discrepancy between reported and observed symptoms/signs suggested in the RCPCH guidelines:
- Exaggeration due to anxiety, poor understanding, lack of knowledge
- Carer misperception of child’s illness leading to genuine belief that child is ill
- Carer actively promotes sick role by non-treatment or fabrication/falsification or induction of illness (‘true’ FII)
- Carer suffers from psychiatric condition which leads them to believe the child is ill
- True medical condition
It is important to keep an open mind and to carefully plan appropriate assessments for both medical causes and evidence of maltreatment, without putting the child at further risk of harm.
RCPCH National guidance supports the clinician and team in withholding concerns about FII from the parents at early stage of investiagion. This highlights the main difference in dealing with suspected FII compared to other forms of abuse. Documentation and information sharing need to be handled carefully, as alerting the parents to your concerns may put the child at greater risk of harm – concerns should not be recorded in case notes, parents should not be informed. Important that team is united.
Gather information about the parents’ background and any known health problems, including some assessment of parenting capacity and risk factors such as domestic violence, mental health issues or drug abuse. This is essential not optional.
Chronology – given multiple attendances for multiple children with different services, helps see overall picture for a family. Should also include significant events eg moves, bereavements etc.
It is important to feed back your findings to the parents that there appear to be no medical problems and that this is good news. How family responds to initial assessments and management plans is key to making the diagnosis.
In-patient: clarify nursing ability to supervise 24hrs a day. Can child leave ward with/without nurse escort? Who gives medication/food/drink? Where should notes be kept?
If parents demand a new consultant, you can agree to involve another consultant for a specific medical issue eg asthma/epilepsy. You should definitely discuss with named doctor. CAMHS could also be useful for discussing case (and supporting staff, esp if conflicting views)
Disclose to parents – if decision is made to disclose concerns, keep it positive (health of child, etc). Bring in dad, gran etc if potentially useful. Don’t confront or challenge, acknowledge how parents and professionals can have different perceptions and responses to a child’s problems. Present united front, and unambiguous plan.