Knowing How To Spot Munchausen Syndrome

Many of you have probably seen the show on Hulu called The Act. As an ex child abuse investigator, I have been pretty vocal on knowing what and when to report child abuse. This morning we are going to talk about learning how to report abuse and when normal isn’t normal.

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One of my most emotional cases dealt with a young mother who nearly mastered the art of deception. The case was centered around a toddler who was subject to multiple surgeries and needless test. By the time I entered the picture the mother had started keeping a visual log of photos detailing her abuse. I still remember seeing the enormous stack of photos and having a chill of sudden fear run down my spine.

I’ll never know why she kept so many photos of her son detailing every sick moment. My gut tells me that she was going to use those photos as a reason to assign death at a later date. We are talking about hundreds of photos with nothing but sickness and a detailed walk down torture lane. She knew the right words, she knew the right people, but she got a little too overconfident in the end.

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In the end I got my butt chewed off by our lawyers and the judge because I did something most investigators would never do, I went against the hospital by forcing their hand in learning the truth. When I got the case this child was slowly dying, he wasn’t gaining weight, and he was on a pure liquid diet. I had to threaten hospital social workers in order to keep him safe, but by the end of three weeks, I had all medical proof I needed.

His vitals rebounded, he gained well into the 50th percentile and he was now starting to eat by mouth. The child I saw weeks ago couldn’t sit up and he couldn’t wave at me. Now he was now able to walk around the hospital room and give me his toy trucks. We were awarded custody of him, but we couldn’t get the DA to sign off on charges of child abuse due to them not knowing much about the Munchausen Syndrome.

Two things could have saved this kid a lot of pain and heartache. The first thing is having a medical professional call in a case prior to him being nearly 4 or 5. By the time I stepped in, he had already been to quite a few hospitals. All of the doctors said they suspected something was off. They were taking notes, but the mother moved from place to place.

Correspondence is key when you are dealing with someone who suffers from this syndrome. If these hospitals would have linked up a year ago, this child would have been removed a lot sooner. Another provider stated that she felt like they were being forced into performing surgeries by the parent. The parent knew just enough medical terminology to fake symptoms and syndromes.

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This child was surrounded by medical personnel but it took years for someone to call in the abuse. Remember you work for the child. If you are an investigator , be diligent. I know the department presses you to close cases due to numbers, but life surpasses any number system. If you feel like something feels wrong, investigate it. Do not close that case until YOU are sure that child is safe.

Lastly, never assume that certain people can’t be abusers. If you saw little Todd walking and eating three months ago and now every time you see him he has a sippy cup in hand, ask why. If you babysit this child and he eats for you, but the mother swears that he can’t eat, ask why. If you still feel like something is off, call CPS. You just might be saving a life.

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Please Remember The Greatest Will

After I left my job as an investigator, I promised to do something that would help to bring encouragement to families dealing with child abuse. I’ve always supported the idea of keeping children within the family if possible and this book really shows how one family risked it all to do that. I would love for you to read it if you find the time, but more importantly, I would love for you to understand the issue at hand.

There are so many children in the foster care system and many of those children turn out to be victims of street life. Many of the children run and we are now finding that they are also often pursued by sex traffickers. Children in the system are at a much higher risk of being recruited into that lifestyle due to them not having a way out of the system. It is extremely hard to place teens and if that teen has any mental health issues, it’s even harder.

If anything, I want to bring awareness to the fear of being separated through the eyes of a child and how certain areas remove without trying to keep the family together. My ex boss stated that she would purposely stay away from PD’s that wanted to try to keep the children in PCSP homes which is a placement option with family members or people close to that family. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the family isn’t an option. However, if they can prove to be good, protective, and stable for these children, they should be viewed as an option. My ex boss would staff with removal happy PD’s and I found that alarming. She actually bragged about being the removal queen and staying away from PCSP’s which meant she was moving towards the state most of the time instead on trying to check family members out.

I had many arguments with people about doing the right thing instead of the easy thing. We really need to change the system and make sure all efforts are being made to keep children within their family units if the family proves to be safe. Write to your local leaders and talk to them about reporting, updated laws, and the need for new laws while dealing with social services. Nobody should be victimized twice.