Monday, March 5, 2012

An interview with innocent parents and medical experts.

HELEN DALLEY, REPORTER: It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Your young baby appears to suffer a fit, has breathing difficulties, perhaps goes limp, is suddenly seriously unwell. An ambulance rushes the baby to hospital where it undergoes tests and assessment by paediatric specialists. But your nightmare is only just beginning. Within as little as 24 hours, the diagnosis is your baby’s probably been severely shaken. And you, the parent, are directly in the firing line as the culprit.
CHRIS TAYLOR, PARENT: Like a living nightmare. Absolutely. Totally helpless. Nothing we could do or say would make them believe that what we were saying was right.
SHARON TAYLOR, PARENT: It was just all pointed towards us proving we were innocent. We were branded guilty right from the word go.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW, PARENT: There was no innocent until proven guilty, at all. It was guilty until proven innocent.
HELEN DALLEY: These parents have all been accused of vigorously shaking their babies.
STUART LEE: Emotionally I think it wrecks people. Oh well, I know it wrecked myself.
HELEN DALLEY: Stuart Lee had to stand trial for recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm and assault on his de facto wife’s 3-week-old daughter, Charlie.
KELLY LEE, PARENT: He was gentle with the kids, he was loving with the kids, and I think what they were trying to make him out to be was just not right. It was not who he is.
HELEN DALLEY: This man, Craig Court, was accused and tried for murdering his baby son by shaking him to death.
CRAIG COURT, PARENT: I just lost my son, and then I was told I was a killer. It’s just… I don’t know what to say.
HELEN DALLEY: The parents you’ll meet in this story all say they’ve suffered. Their babies, they say, were misdiagnosed as having been violently shaken. Around the world thousands of people are accused of this each year. But even within the medical establishment there is emerging disagreement about the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome, or SBS, as it’s known. The view accepted by most paediatricians working in major hospitals is that when a baby is found to have bleeding around the brain, extensive bleeding behind the eyes and brain swelling, then that collection of symptoms means the baby has been shaken.
DR KIERAN MORAN, CPU SYDNEY CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL: One of the common things to do would be a CT scan of the head. A CT scan of the head might show up a subdural haemorrhage and some swelling of the brain substance. Subdural haemorrhage is a haemorrhage over the surface of the brain. And usually at that stage, one would look into the baby’s eyes, and if one saw um, a lot of haemorrhages in the retina, then I think that one of the first things that would come to your mind was that the baby had been shaken.
HELEN DALLEY: In what percentage of cases where there are subdural haemorrhages and retinal haemorrhages, is it definitely shaken baby syndrome?
DR PAUL TAIT, CPU WESTMEAD CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL: I guess it’s hard to put a number on that because we haven’t got a way of screening all those cases but I’d say you are sort of looking at 99 per cent of cases. I guess my position would be it was shaken baby until proven otherwise.
HELEN DALLEY: But other medical experts are now seriously questioning that 99 per cent certainty.
DR WANEY SQUIER, RADCLIFFE INFIRMARY, UK: I think this is very much open to question. Because we don’t have any evidence that babies with this constellation of findings, that is, retinal haemorrhage, subdural haemorrhage and brain swelling, have been shaken.
HELEN DALLEY: Eminent neuropathologist Dr Waney Squier has spent the last 20 years studying babies’ brains. She and other specialists believe that a small percentage of cases with that particular group of symptoms may be wrongly diagnosed as shaken baby.
DR WANEY SQUIER: I’m sure in a small percentage of cases, there is misdiagnosis. It could be more than 5 per cent who are not shaken. I think 5 per cent is a conservative estimate.
PROFESSOR HELEN WHITWELL, UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD: What we shouldn’t do is assume that in all cases the subdurals, the retinals and the brain swelling, have been due to violent shaking.
HELEN DALLEY: That then raises doubts about accusations of baby shaking made against parents and carers. There’s no argument that the majority of cases are genuinely shaken baby, and that some do harm their infants.
DR WANEY SQUIER: We’ve no doubt at all that children do get injured by carers, but it’s the small minority where we don’t have definite evidence that causes us the greatest concern.
DR MARK DONOHOE, GP: Here’s the problem. We call it shaken baby syndrome. You’ve already predetermined the cause by the very naming of it, and that happened 25 years ago, so that changes the mindset of doctors who hear the term. We think retinal haemorrhages, bleeding into the brain, shaken baby syndrome. It’s become such a common part of our training that we don’t doubt it.
DR WANEY SQUIER: Well, I think there are people being wrongly accused, because the history they give has not been taken into account. It’s been a knee-jerk response to say, well, this is shaken baby syndrome, so we ignore everything the family is saying.
HELEN DALLEY: One problem is there is no specific diagnostic test that definitely determines shaken baby syndrome and there’s still much about this condition that is unknown. However, the majority of paediatricians working in child protection units in hospitals claim experience proves them right. How do you know you’re right – that 99 per cent-100 per cent are shaken?
DR PAUL TAIT: Well, because of the depth of reports, the vast clinical experience around the world, the number of people who’ve actually admitted to having been perpetrators of that sort of violent crime. The reality of human nature, the correlation that we know exists between the child being extremely well one minute and then someone getting very angry with the child and then finding them very unwell, you know, an hour later.
DR KIERAN MORAN: It’s based on the, on the common experience of practising clinicians around the world. The American Academy of Paediatrics believes this and has a position paper on it. The medical examiners or the forensic pathologists of the United States have a position on it. Every neurologist that I know here believes in it, neurosurgeon and so forth. So if you are making a diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome on the basis that you have got a particular kind of subdural haemorrhage, that you’ve got brain swelling, and that you have the typical retinal haemorrhages, then there is nothing else that mimics exactly that.
DR PAUL TAIT: Well I think usually there’s a trigger that sets off some distress – they might be crying or something has happened – and the parent would pick the baby up and shake them quite vigorously and often that will result in the child going quiet, so that might be a good outcome, if you like.
HELEN DALLEY: Paediatrician Dr Paul Tait is head of the child protection unit at Sydney’s Westmead Children’s Hospital. It’s his job to assess injuries and report suspected shaken baby cases.
DR PAUL TAIT: Most of them grab the baby around the torso…
HELEN DALLEY: So quite firmly?
DR PAUL TAIT: … either with the shoulders like that…
HELEN DALLEY: Around the chest.
DR PAUL TAIT: … or around the chest like that and shake, some quite vigorously. It’s a sustained rhythmic backwards and forward motion, Usually averages around three or four cycles per second and may go on for several seconds. Particularly quite hard to sustain that sort of violent sort of injury, or movement for too long.
HELEN DALLEY: But an ad campaign running in Western Australia appears to contradict that view that excessive and violent force is needed to cause the injuries.
TV AD: That shaking them, even for a few seconds, can cause serious brain damage.
HELEN DALLEY: It was this sort of contradictory opinion about the amount of force necessary to produce serious injury that was at the heart of a recent criminal trial in Western Australia.
CAROLINE COURT, PARENT: We are glad that it’s over.
HELEN DALLEY: Earlier this month Craig Court was acquitted in the Supreme Court of deliberately shaking his baby son, Cameron, to death.
CAROLINE COURT: I was shocked that they could make an accusation like that because I know the type of person Craig is and we both would do anything, we’d give our own life for our children.
HELEN DALLEY: In May 2001, 9-month-old baby Cameron was hospitalised, put on life support, then died three days later of severe brain injury. Their other child was removed from the family and Craig Court was later detained. The Crown alleged the baby’s injuries were consistent with violent shaking.
CRAIG COURT: We lost Cammie, and in no time we got Courtney taken away and then I was shoved into prison for something I didn’t do from the beginning.
HELEN DALLEY: When Craig Court was arrested and charged with murdering his baby son, he was sent here to Hakea Prison on the outskirts of Perth. He was locked up for over 20 months while awaiting his trial. Labelled a baby killer – the worst possible crime in the eyes of other prisoners – Craig Court says he was pelted with rocks and subjected to an attempted stabbing and other assaults. Supported throughout by wife Caroline, Craig Court strongly denied the allegation, saying the boy had gone into a fit and he had been trying to resuscitate him. Robin Napper, lecturer at Perth’s Centre for Forensic Science, observed the trial.
ROBIN NAPPER, CENTRE FOR FORENSIC SCIENCE, PERTH: The prosecution case was, of course, that this was a deliberate shaking act which killed the child.
HELEN DALLEY: A malicious, kind of violent shaking, picking it up and shaking it?
ROBIN NAPPER: A malicious, malicious, violent shaking.
HELEN DALLEY: What having lost the plot, or angry?
ROBIN NAPPER: That was the allegation and the defence quite clearly showed that this could just purely have been a father trying to resuscitate his dying child.
HELEN DALLEY: In 2001 Professor Helen Whitwell, head of Forensic Pathology at the University of Sheffield in the UK, co-authored with Dr Jennian Geddes a research study that challenged assumptions that violent force was needed to produce the brain injuries.
PROFESSOR HELEN WHITWELL: What we particularly identified in the young age group was that where as before the brain damage had been thought to be due to trauma, severe trauma, as you would get in a road traffic accident or a fall from a height, what we found was that the brain damage, when you look down a microscope at the brains, what a significant proportion showed was damage due to lack of oxygen getting to the brain, not damage to the nerve fibres caused by severe trauma.
DR WANEY SQUIER: She has hypothesised it could be less than an intentional, malicious aim to injure that child. But just simply a quick hyperflexion or extension of the neck, maybe one or two shakes, would be sufficient to produce this injury. Although she was at pains to point out that it would be more than happens in normal caring of a child.
HELEN DALLEY: But senior Sydney paediatrician and shaken baby expert Dr Kieran Moran rejects some of the conclusions of the UK research.
DR KIERAN MORAN: What I would reject is the notion that somehow Geddes has suggested or has shown, that she knows what degree of forces are involved to produce retinal haemorrhages, subdural haemorrhages and brain swelling. There is nothing in any of Geddes papers to support that notion.
HELEN DALLEY: In the case against Craig Court, the Crown presented several eminent specialists saying the baby was violently shaken. But by the end of the trial, two key prosecution medical experts expressed doubt that deliberate shaking caused Cameron’s injury. The prosecution in this case had to convince a judge alone, not a jury, that Craig Court was guilty. After hearing experts from both sides, the judge, Justice Graeme Scott, in his judgement, found that after reviewing all the evidence he was unable to conclude that the death of the baby was caused by the baby being shaken by Craig Court in the manner alleged by the prosecution. Hence the judge acquitted Craig Court of murder and manslaughter.
CAROLINE COURT: It’s been a nightmare. To any young parent, we wouldn’t want them to go through what we’ve been through. It’s been an absolute nightmare, even for our daughter.
CRAIG COURT: We’ve lost everything. Money’s gone, I’ve been away from Caroline for two years, I haven’t lived with Courtney for 2.5 years.
CAROLINE COURT: We lost our house, I’ve lost my job after 15 years.
DR MARK DONOHOE: I believe that there are families there who have done nothing, who have found a child injured in a way that is inexplicable by medicine, suddenly have their lives torn apart, not just by the loss of the child and the injury but by the consequences that they are forever labelled child abusers and murderers.
CRAIG COURT: At the moment I just want to deal with Family Services and get my family back together and we’ll deal with whatever comes later on.
HELEN DALLEY: And they will have more to deal with, as the Crown has this week lodged an appeal against Craig’s acquittal in the criminal case. The Crown is still alleging the baby was shaken to death, reopening the question of whether this was or wasn’t shaken baby syndrome.
KELLY LEE: There’s no words that can describe it at all. How do you describe 2.5 years?
HELEN DALLEY: 2.5 years of what?
KELLY LEE: Of hell.
HELEN DALLEY: In December 2001, Stuart Lee also stood trial for recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm on his partner’s 3-week-old baby. He vehemently denied violently shaking the baby, saying he tried to revive the child after it had difficulty breathing.
STUART LEE: After I took her in the shower, which I was advised by a mid-wife who came to the house that that was OK, she started having breathing difficulties after we got out of the shower and that’s when I rang Kelly’s aunt to say what, what had caused it, what was causing it, how could I fix it.
HELEN DALLEY: Stuart and now wife Kelly Lee say that within 24 to 48 hours of baby Charlie’s admission to hospital in Canberra, they were suspected of child abuse. From MRI and CT scans the doctors said there was a subdural haemorrhage, retinal haemorrhages and some brain damage.
STUART LEE: We both got sat down by the paediatrician who was looking after Charlie at the time, and he said to us the child had been injured in a violent shaking. The baby was shaken. Which basically said whoever was with the child at that specific time that the child experienced problems, was the culprit of what had happened to her.
BERNARD COLLAERY, STUART LEE’S SOLICITOR: I think there is a rush to judgement in some of these case. In this particular case there was an unparalleled rush to judgement.
HELEN DALLEY: The police were very quickly called in.
BERNARD COLLAERY: Within days of the baby being taken to hospital, whilst you had two grieving parents and a whole enlarged family there, the police were busy out at the house putting listening devices into their home. There were hundreds of cassettes of tapes. The prosecution has a duty to present to the court incriminating evidence. The answer is in the tapes – there was none.
HELEN DALLEY: There were no fractures and the only bruise to be found was on Charlie’s buttock, which the defence claimed was the result of resuscitation attempts. The Lees say there was inadequate investigation of the baby’s full medical history.
STUART LEE: They had their idea and they were sticking with it, and anything that was suggested was not really listened to at all.
HELEN DALLEY: For more than two years awaiting trial Stuart Lee was not allowed to be alone with Charlie, who was by then back home with no apparent ill-effects, He had to have special permission to see her at Christmas.
STUART LEE: For 2.5 years I couldn’t be at home in the environment that I was in because some public servant had decided, or deemed me not be fit, and that the family unit would still function without me being there. So, it takes a part of you away, an emotional part.
ROSS LEE, FATHER: He became very, very angry and he was a frightened young man.
HELEN DALLEY: Why did you stick by him through all this time?
ROSS LEE: Obviously because he is my son. I love him dearly… ..and I guess you just have to trust your kids and I knew Stuart couldn’t have done what he was accused of. I just knew he couldn’t have done it.
HELEN DALLEY: At trial, the prosecution presented doctor after doctor, saying it looked like Charlie had been violently shaken.
KELLY LEE: He was never ever violent at all, he never yelled at the children or anything like that. And I think what they were trying to make him out to be was just not right. It was not who he is.
HELEN DALLEY: In the end Justice Ken Crispin acquitted Stuart Lee, stating: “The case for the Crown has been comprehensively and competently argued but I have found it far from compelling.” Judge Crispin said he was not satisfied the prosecution had proved that Stuart had shaken the baby in the manner alleged. He concluded that: “The well meaning but perhaps overly vigorous application of force in an attempt to resuscitate her was one factor.”
DR SUE PACKER, CANBERRA HOSPITAL: You accept the court verdict as one always accepts the court verdict.
HELEN DALLEY: Dr Sue Packer gave evidence for the prosecution in this case, as one of the hospital specialists who had assessed baby Charlie.
DR SUE PACKER: The more I have to do with courts the more I realise that we speak two different languages and we really work in our two different languages with two different rule systems and come to different conclusions in our different games.
HELEN DALLEY: So it doesn’t make you think that perhaps we got the initial diagnosis wrong?
HELEN DALLEY: While the Lees were told Charlie’s injuries could cause blindness and intellectual disability, today she’s a happy, apparently healthy 4-year-old. In part two, other families tell of the trauma they face once child protection authorities step in and how the system can swallow up parents who claim they’re innocent.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: There’s no turning back. Once the notification is made it’s just like a roller-coaster nightmare.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: We went through a complete and utter nightmare that I would never want any other family to ever have to go through. It was so unnecessary.
HELEN DALLEY: Donna and Brian Meads-Barlow’s nightmare began in July 2000 when their baby son, Codey, was around five months old. He’d been generally unwell, developing upper respiratory tract infection, runny nose, a cough, and was prescribed antibiotics. He had an apparent seizure a few weeks earlier. Then Codey had his second immunisation. The next day he apparently suffered another seizure, and was rushed to hospital.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: He was tested by a registrar who then spoke with the paediatrician and because he had a retinal haemorrhage that was seen that immediately indicated that he was a shaken baby.
HELEN DALLEY: So on the basis of only one symptom, the retinal haemorrhages alone, Codey was diagnosed as a shaken baby.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: That’s correct. And within minutes they picked up the telephone and phoned the Department of Community Services.
HELEN DALLEY: Donna Meads-Barlow claims while little more was done to fully investigate the baby’s medical history, the shaken baby syndrome ball started rolling.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: There’s no turning back. Once the notification is made, it’s just like a roller-coaster nightmare.
BRIAN MEADS-BARLOW, FATHER: You’re in a situation where you’re new to everything they’re trying to explain to you and you have no understanding of what’s going on and you don’t have any control over your life, suddenly.
HELEN DALLEY: They asked endless questions of the doctors.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: Have you ran all the tests? Are you absolutely sure?
BRIAN MEADS-BARLOW: It was that we were pretty well asking, “Are you absolutely sure? “Could it be something else?” And the answer was no.
HELEN DALLEY: The NSW Department of Community Services, or DOCS, stepped in, started investigating and immediately took care and custody of baby Codey away from Donna and Brian. The couple says they felt they were treated as guilty from then on.
ANNETTE GALLARD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, DOCS: I can have sympathy for parents in this situation, but our role is to protect children. We are talking about very young babies with very serious injuries.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: We walked into a room where basically we were ambushed, there was about seven or eight people around a table who stood up as we walked through the door and introduced themselves as joint investigation team – half police and half Department of Community Services – so we were not going to have a chat with a social worker at all. They then handed us a document which took temporary care of Codey and split us up immediately and did a full investigation.
HELEN DALLEY: How did that make you feel?
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: Frightened, unknowing as to what was going on. Sorry. Horrible. Like we were criminals. Reliving it is horrible.
ANNETTE GALLARD: We proceeded according to our guidelines.
HELEN DALLEY: Do you think it’s fair for DOCS to take custody of a child, even in hospital, before even the final tests are done that may prove to the doctors that it was shaken?
ANNETTE GALLARD: We are talking about very vulnerable young babies. We’re concerned about the safety of the child. We can’t afford to take chances with children’s lives.
HELEN DALLEY: The law requires doctors to notify authorities of suspected shaken baby cases. DOCS says it has no option but to investigate thoroughly. But with almost farcical circular logic, it appears the entire child protection system could overwhelm innocent parents, without anyone accepting total responsibility. The doctors say they just diagnose, it’s then up to child welfare departments and the police to investigate. But those departments say they depend on the doctors’ expertise to initiate the case.
ANNETTE GALLARD: We’re not the medical experts. Our role is about protecting children. So we rely on the medical opinions of paediatricians who have expertise in this area, who work at top-tier hospitals.
DR PAUL TAIT: It’s not our job to investigate these cases. We have to work closely with the department, we also have to work closely with the parents and it’s not a comfortable relationship always, and unfortunately it becomes quite adversarial in the legal system.
HELEN DALLEY: In the Meads-Barlow case, an MRI test showed what doctors said was an old and a new subdural haemorrhage, further evidence, according to them, that Codey had been shaken. What did you find out down the track about those subdural haemorrhages that they’d apparently found?
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: Oh, the evidence of old and new haemorrhage was actually a mistake and in fact there was only one and when…and it had dissolved virtually, it had virtually dissolved.
HELEN DALLEY: There was no other evidence of bruising, no fractures, no apparent brain swelling, no history of violence, no previous notifications to welfare authorities about their two older children. Nonetheless, DOCS persisted and eventually put Codey into foster care. What was it like to have DOCS, or the joint investigation team, take your little baby from you and put him into foster care?
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: The worst day of our life. They rang at 4:30 in the afternoon and said that they’d made a decision to remove him to foster care the following morning to an unknown foster carer. At one stage they threatened to make him a ward of the State until the age of 18.
HELEN DALLEY: While still trying to run their small business and maintain normal family life for the sake of the other children, Donna and Brian faced several months of supervised access visits while Codey was fostered out.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: When Codey was taken into foster care, the only place we were allowed to see him was in a park.
HELEN DALLEY: So he couldn’t come to your house?
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: No, no, no they wouldn’t let him…
HELEN DALLEY: To his home?
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: No, they wouldn’t let him come to our house.
HELEN DALLEY: They’re not even allowed to bring him home on an access visit to his own home. They have to meet in a park or a shopping centre?
ANNETTE GALLARD: Our primary concern is about the safety of the child. The place for access can vary.
HELEN DALLEY: The couple was forced to fight through the Children’s Court over several months to get Codey back from the authorities.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: And $150,000 later we finally got him home, but when he came home he had to come home under a 24/7 supervision. During all that time we had several psychological assessments that were put up by the department, and, you know, to assess us for risk, and even the psychologist said send him home.
HELEN DALLEY: For a further two years, even with Codey back at home, the family were under the department’s supervision on a regular basis. Yet during that time Codey was actually given the all-clear by the paediatrician who first notified the department. He stated in writing, “Codey is not at risk of non-accidental injury.” Despite that, the department persisted with its supervision order. Do you think DOCS got the Meads-Barlow case wrong?
ANNETTE GALLARD: I think that we acted on the available evidence at the time. We did what we were supposed to do. We took it before the Children’s Court magistrate and the Children’s Court magistrate made the decisions in that case.
HELEN DALLEY: The Meads-Barlows are now attempting to put their family life back on track. In March this year, the department finally informed them that the 2-year supervision period had expired.
DONNA MEADS-BARLOW: You’re hungry? Hungry for something to eat or to drink.
DONNA’S SON: Um, to drink.
HELEN DALLEY: For the record, Codey appears to be developing normally. A day after this happy home video of baby Reece, the Taylor family’s world was turned upside down.
SHARON TAYLOR: He had a dirty nappy so I put him on the change table to change him, and when I picked up his legs, that was when he really started screaming, and then he started shaking and twitching. So I screamed for Chris, because I didn’t know what was going on. And then he came in and picked him up, and by that stage he’d gone limp.
HELEN DALLEY: Within a few days of admission to Westmead Children’s Hospital tests excluded serious infection, but the Taylors were told the baby had had a subdural bleed.
CHRIS TAYLOR: We were sort of saying, what type of force is required to cause these types of bleed, and they said to us that falling from a multi-story building, being involved in a car accident and being thrown from a vehicle, or from being shaken. Those were the options we were given. And we said, “Well, we know none of those is true, “so where does that leave us?” And they kind of shrugged and couldn’t give us an answer.
HELEN DALLEY: Where it left them was with a diagnosis that Reece had most likely been shaken.
CHRIS TAYLOR: Two subdural haemorrhages.
HELEN DALLEY: Two subdural haemorrhages?
SHARON TAYLOR: Possibility of two. It wasn’t a definite, it looked like it was two different-aged bloods.
HELEN DALLEY: But further tests showed no fractures, no bruises and most importantly no retinal haemorrhages. So on the basis of one symptom, you felt they were accusing you of shaken baby syndrome?
SHARON TAYLOR: Definitely.
HELEN DALLEY: Do we feel they were looking for the original cause of why Reece got sick?
SHARON TAYLOR: No, we always felt his medical came second, it was purely putting on us, trying to find out, or proving if we’d shaken him.
HELEN DALLEY: The Department of Community Services was notified almost immediately. The department assumed care of Reece in the hospital, where he had to remain instead of going home for his first Christmas.
CHRIS TAYLOR: Oh we, we couldn’t have our first Christmas with our son.
SHARON TAYLOR: We were devastated, we said you know, you can never get your first Christmas back, that’s been and gone.
HELEN DALLEY: Dr Paul Tait was head of Westmead’s Child Protection Unit at the time. While not commenting on the Taylors specifically he says he has diagnosed shaken baby syndrome on the presence of subdural bleeding alone.
DR PAUL TAIT: Yes, I have, and usually there are some other issues around the clinical presentation, or the actual nature of the subdural, or…
HELEN DALLEY: Such as what?
DR PAUL TAIT: Maybe that there are two subdurals or they seem to be different ages.
SHARON TAYLOR: We even gave them dates of when he’d fallen off the bed, and when he’d flipped himself out of a rocker and hit his head on a box. And we said, you know, could that do it? No, that’s not a strong enough force for a child to have a brain bleed. And we even queried with the shape of his head and said, you know, “Could he be more susceptible to a brain bleed?”
HELEN DALLEY: Have you diagnosed shaken baby on the basis of subdural haemorrhages alone?
DR KIERAN MORAN: I think probably not, no. On the basis of subdural haemorrhage alone, without any evidence of injury to the brain or the eye, I would be loathe to call that shaken baby syndrome.
HELEN DALLEY: If there’s no other corroborating evidence, how can you be sure that it’s shaken baby?
DR PAUL TAIT: I can’t be 100 per cent sure. All I can say is that I think this is, on the basis of what I know about this sort of thing, it is unusual and needs to be investigated more fully.
HELEN DALLEY: Where does that leave the family if you can’t really determine?
DR PAUL TAIT: Yeah, no, it’s a tough decision, it’s a tough role and I understand that it would be quite distressing for families.
HELEN DALLEY: The Taylors say it became even more distressing when the Department of Community Services pointed out their worst-case scenario – that Reece could only return to the parents’ care if they were under 24-hour supervision and not necessarily in their own family home.
SHARON TAYLOR: I went into hysterics. I mean I was five months pregnant at the time. Chris just sat there and shook.
HELEN DALLEY: DOCS executive director of operations, Annette Gallard, maintains the department had no other option.
ANNETTE GALLARD: If the medical authorities tell us that they suspect shaken baby syndrome, then we are required to go in there and do an investigation.
HELEN DALLEY: It seems because of the uncertainty around the case, the investigation petered out. Yet the Taylors say they were still left hanging for months, uninformed and anxious.
SHARON TAYLOR: A few months of sheer hell at the beginning, and then we were just left wondering for the next so many months – every time the phone rang, every time someone knocked on the door, is it DOCS telling us, or coming to remove him.
HELEN DALLEY: These days Reece Taylor appears a normal healthy boy and the family is now trying to put the distress behind them.
CHRIS TAYLOR: We can understand them having to be vigilant, don’t have a problem with that. The last thing we would want is for someone who shakes their child to get away with it. Um, but there is obviously a very, very rigid protocol that they need to go through to ensure that they don’t track people who are innocent. Because the effects on you are absolutely devastating, totally devastating. And you never get an apology. They won’t sit there and say, you know, “We’re sorry, we got it wrong.” It just sort of goes away, but it’s still there always for us.
HELEN DALLEY: There’s no doubt the community’s first instinct and duty must be to protect the child, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far from failing to recognise shaken baby cases to over-diagnosing them and hurting the families in the process.
DR MARK DONOHOE: In trying to make sure we never miss an abuser, we are abusing families who have done nothing wrong. Who have done nothing. And we are abusing them simply because we are pretending certainty where we don’t have it in our medical science.