Scientists are claiming that parents are being wrongly accused of child abuse because of an undiagnosed epidemic of rickets among very young children.
Rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D. In very young children, the condition can lead to breakage of bones, and can trigger fatal bleeds in the brain. Cases of the illness have soured in the past decade due poor lifestyle and diet.
It has been shockingly claimed that parents are being accused of abusing their young children, when the children are in fact suffering from rickets.
These new claims are originating from scientists from Sheffield Children’s Hospital and London’s Barts hospital. They are suggesting that in many cases parents are mistakenly being accused of hurting or shaking babies whose injuries were actually caused by rickets.
A case of this was seen recently when a couple were originally accused of murdering their son, Jayden Wray, who died at four months from head injuries. Last month the parents were cleared of murder at the Old Bailey when it was discovered that the child actually had the severe vitamin D deficiency that was passed onto him by his mother, causing him the injuries that led to his death.
Dr Irene Scheimberg, of Barts hospital, believes that the rise of rickets is leading to parents being wrongly accused of abuse.
Dr Marta Cohen, of Sheffield Children’s Hospital, said that due to this confusion, it was likely that many children suffering from rickets had wrongly been placed into foster homes because their parents had been suspected of abuse. When speaking to BBC Radio 4 she said:
“If you have bones that fracture easily they will fracture with any normal movement. Like trying to put a babygrow on a baby, you will twist the arm. ‘In a child whose bones are weakened, it’s easier for them to get these very tiny fractures or big fractures. There should be a commission that studies all of these cases, taking into account the age of these children, their gender, the race, the way in which these families live.”
Dr Cohen also believes that rickets could also be responsible for many cases of cot death, or sudden infant death syndrome, because it can cause the heart to stop beating.
The Doctor recently carried out a study involving 24 babies who had died of cot death. She interestingly found that three quarters were found to have moderate or severe vitamin D deficiency.
The Government estimates that as many as 40 per cent of Britons are deficient in vitamin D. The increase in rickets in young children has been blamed on the children spending considerably more time inside, rather than outside in the sun.
MCMINNVILLE, Ore. – The state accuses two McMinnville parents of abusing their child, but the couple insists they’re innocent.
The state took custody of Linda and Daniel Dossey’s baby boy, Joss, after the couple brought him in with a fever in November and say doctors found what appeared to be fractures in the child’s leg and ribs. But the couple says their son has a medical condition called neonatal rickets.
The couple says they were shocked after a doctor told them Joss had a broken femur.
“We’re like he’s been kicking around fine,” said Linda. “He seemed a little fussy but not in pain.”
Linda said the doctors’ response to the child’s injuries was it “must have been shaking. That this was (a) grabbing motion that must have occurred that caused the shaking.”
The Dosseys say social services interviewed them and took Joss the next day.
“We’re grasping for anything,” Linda said. “We know that our son has something medically wrong here. Figure it out.”
Looking for an explanation, the couple found a specialist in Illinois who reviewed Joss’ medical file and diagnosed him with neonatal rickets, a rare medical condition that can cause weakened bones.
The specialist testified on their behalf at a custody hearing last month but his expert opinion wasn’t enough to get their son back.
“It hurts. That’s all you can say is it just hurts like beyond anything,” Daniel said.
The Dosseys say there is no proof they abused their son but they have to go through mental evaluations with the state next month. Until then, Joss remains in foster care.
“You’re innocent until proven guilty. We know we didn’t do anything, this will be easy, and then know that it’s not really that easy,” Linda said.
DHS won’t comment on the case. According to OHSU, where Joss was treated before going to foster care, it cannot comment on the specific case but it follows state law, which requires reporting any suspected child abuse.
John Sweeney | 16:35 UK time, Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Is a new global epidemic of rickets being confused with mistaken findings of child abuse?
Humans need sunshine to make Vitamin D to make bones.
If you’re pregnant, white and you cloak your skin with sun-block in New Zealand, you may end up giving your baby rickets – an age-old disease which leads to weak and easily fractured bones. And those symptoms are seen as a serious danger sign for possible child abuse.
Equally, if you’re pregnant, Thai and live in dark-for-half-the-year Sweden, you are in danger of not getting enough sun – and that also means your babies could end up with rickets.
The problem is that rickets and child abuse share some of the same symptoms – so which is it?
That’s not an academic question for Erik Eriksson from Sweden, who faces four years in prison because he has been held to have violently shaken his 16-day-old daughter, Linnea.
His Thai partner, Nancy, stands by him. There is no other evidence that he is a child abuser.
Lock him up and throw away the key – you might be tempted to say.
Erik is in dire trouble because his daughter had multiple fractures and bleeds over the brain. And, many experts say, they must have been caused by someone. But that is not a fact.
It’s a deduction based on a controversial theory called Shaken Baby Syndrome – see my previous blogs on the Keran Henderson case. Keran is serving a sentence for manslaughter but she denies shaking the child in her care.
And many people who know her believe her.
In Erik’s case, there is another explanation for his daughter’s condition, one for which there is evidence, in New Zealand, the United States and many other countries, and that places a big question mark against the ‘certainty’ of Erik’s guilt.
The other theory argues that Linnea’s fractures were caused by congenital rickets because her mother, Nancy, is originally from Thailand and the combination of the dark pigmentation of her skin and the weak sunshine in the far north of Europe caused Vitamin D deficiency and that caused weak bone growth in the womb and that caused Linnea’s fractures.
But what about the bleeds over the brain? Well, there is evidence that they can happen naturally in child birth and it is very hard to date them precisely. So, not abuse, necessarily..
Dr Kathy Keller and Professor Patrick Barnes at Stanford University have written a paper – ‘Rickets vs. abuse: a national and international epidemic’ – that sets out the evidence that Vitamin D deficiency is getting worse in the United States and it gets worse in winter.
Black, white and everybody in between are suffering from more cases – while the Vitamin D in food and milk is lower than it has been for a generation.
From this study, it looks like lack of sunshine in northern climes and worries about skin cancer, particularly in white people, have caused a new and silent problem: childhood rickets.
In New Zealand, Annie Judkins and Carl Eagleton, got worried when they found ten cases of childhood rickets in three years in one GP’s practice in Wellington.
They tested 90 pregnant mums for rickets and found that almost nine out of 10 were Vitamin D deficient – and some two thirds had a serious deficiency.
The mums were from a wide spectrum: African, Maori, European, Middle Eastern, and Polynesian.
Shaken Baby Syndrome has powerful defenders in the child protection community, who argue that it is valid science and that perpetrators have confessed to it.
However, it is also the case that no-one independent has ever witnessed a shaking leading to the symptoms – bleeds over the surface of the brain and in the eyes and brain damage – alleged to be found in the syndrome and no-one has ever filmed it.
Erik faces the legal hurdle that his defence relies on new science – rickets plus child birth – and judges like old precedents – SBS.
This is a problem that one of his defence experts, Dr Waney Squier, is familiar with.
The Oxford neuro-pathologist helped clear Suzanne Holdsworth of the false finding of child murder of Kyle Fisher – see my previous blog. (The Independent Police Complaints Commission are now investigating the integrity of the first Cleveland Police investigation into Holdsworth’s conviction.)
Dr Squier, a sceptic on Shaken Baby Syndrome, argues that Baby Linnea had just been born – and that if you combine congenital rickets with a difficult birth, then bleeds in the eye and over the surface of the brain are natural events, not child abuse.
The Swedish judges have thus far dismissed the evidence from around the world that suggests that Erik might never have harmed his little girl at all. The matter now goes to final appeal.
The problem is that if Eric is innocent but goes to prison because of questionable science, then it is likely that many more children in Sweden and elsewhere, including Britain, will suffer from rickets – a wholly preventable disease – while the food and milk manufacturers are under no pressure to boost the level of Vitamin D.
Friday 22 January 2010
Computer-obsessed children who spend too long indoors and over-anxious parents who slap on excessive sunscreen are contributing to a sharp rise in cases of the bone disease rickets, doctors are warning.
Vitamin D deficiency, which causes the condition, could be rectified by adding supplements to milk and other food, a research team at Newcastle University suggests.
There are several hundred cases of the preventable condition among children in the UK every year, according to a clinical review paper in the British Medical Journal by Professor Simon Pearce and Dr Tim Cheetham.
“More than 50% of the adult population [in the UK] have insufficient levels of vitamin D and 16% have severe deficiency during winter and spring,” they say. “The highest rates are in Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England. People with pigmented skin are at high risk as are the elderly, obese individuals and those with malabsorption.”
Most vitamin D is synthesised in the body by absorption of sunlight. Some comes from foods such as fish oil. People with darker skins need more sunlight to top up their vitamin D levels.
One of the main reasons for the reappearance of rickets – once considered a disease of the industrial poor in 19th-century cities – is the changing ethnic makeup of the population, Pearce explained.
The most commonly affected are people of Asian or African descent who live in northern cities. He has examined cases among young Somali speakers who live in east Newcastle. But changing lifestyles are also contributing to lowering vitamin D levels in the general population.
“Some people are taking the safe sun message too far,” Pearce said. “It’s good to have 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to the sun two to three times a week, after which you can put on a hat or sunscreen.
“Vitamin D levels in parts of the population are precarious. The average worker nowadays is in a call center, not out in the field. People tend to stay at home rather than going outside to kick a ball around. They stay at home on computer games.”
Pearce has written to the Department of Health proposing that vitamin D is added to milk. It is already added as a supplement to artificial baby milk. He has also asked the Royal College of Paediatrics to record cases of rickets but said figures were not being collected.
“A more robust approach to statutory food supplementation with vitamin D (for example in milk) is needed in the UK,” the paper concludes.
Meanwhile, figures obtained by the Tories show the number of patients leaving hospital with malnutrition has hit record levels in the last year. Those affected are primarily elderly people. The NHS figures show that last year 175,000 people were malnourished on entry to hospital but nearly 185,500 were in a similar condition on discharge, meaning more than 10,000 patients were more malnourished after medical treatment.
By CYNTHIA DI PASQUALE
The family was living in Alexandria, Va., when Alice Velasquez took four-month-old Liliana for a routine checkup at the Bethesda medical center in February 2000.
During the checkup, Mrs. Velasquez, an enlisted Army medical lab technician, asked about some bumps she had noticed on the baby’s ribs.
When an X-ray revealed multiple rib fractures, Mrs. Velasquez informed them that bone diseases ran in her family.
However, hospital staff never tested the child for brittle bone disease and instead insisted the fractures could only be the result of child abuse, according to Isaacs. They concluded this even though Liliana was bruise-free and didn’t show signs of shaken-baby syndrome, the lawyer noted.
The doctors contacted child protective services in Alexandria, Va., where the couple lived at the time, and their daughter was promptly placed in foster care.
Miguel Velasquez, Liliana’s primary caregiver, was arrested and charged with felony child abuse. He was also placed on a state registry of child abusers.
“These people went through absolute hell,” said Isaacs, who practices with Surovell Markle Isaacs & Levy in Alexandria. She represented the Velasquezes with Patricia Ann Smith, who also practices in Alexandria.
Things started to turn for the couple when the public defender assigned to Miguel Velasquez’s criminal case obtained court funding for Liliana to be tested for osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder characterized by bones that break easily. The test came back positive and Alexandria nolle prossed the charges in January 2001.
Despite the test results, Liliana remained in foster care until July of that year. Her doctors still wouldn’t concede that the girl’s injuries were caused by brittle bone disorder, and child protective services wanted to be certain she would be safe.
The city preferred to err on the side of caution, Isaacs suspected, especially following the death of another toddler under its protective custody that year, who had been returned to her parents just weeks earlier.
Virginia did not remove Velasquez from its registry of child abusers until ordered to do so by the state Court of Appeals in August 2004.” (Delete reference to his conviction; as stated a few paragraphs earlier, the charges were dropped.
Meanwhile, in July 2003, the couple filed suit against the federal government for medical malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. The case was reassigned to Baltimore and was being heard in a bench trial earlier this month when the parties decided to settle.
While Judge Richard D. Bennett has agreed to the settlement, a judge in West Virginia must still approve it on Liliana’s behalf before Bennett can sign the order, Isaacs explained. She hopes that will be done this week.