A Wearside couple have revealed their “nightmare” after they were wrongly suspected of abusing their baby daughter after taking her to hospital.
Amy Agnew, 24, and Steven Gardener, 32, took their eight-week old daughter Scarlett Gardener to Sunderland Royal Hospital after being concerned about an unusual, dark mark on her right foot.
But their concern quickly turned to horror after child protection procedures were launched, involving social services and police.
The couple say that was the start of a nightmare, which included:
l Being escorted back to hospital by police
l Scarlett being put through an MRI scan, full body X-ray, blood and eyes tests, which came back all-clear.
l Their one-year-old daughter Esmae also being tested
l Being quizzed by social services and Steven and Esmae being placed under supervision at home.
l Having to sign care of Esmae over to another family member overnight.
The couple’s ordeal only ended after skin specialists at another hospital said the unexplained mark - which the family believe to be a birth mark or blemish - had not been caused by any abuse or mistreatment.
Now they have made an official complaint to City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, which said it apologised for any “distress” caused by its part in the child protection process.
Amy, of Hexham Road, Sunderland, said: “It was like a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. “They made our lives hell for absolutely no reason as we hadn’t done anything wrong. They just pointed the finger at us. “I know that some parents may harm their children, but we didn’t and it got completely out of hand.
“I wouldn’t want any parents to go through what we have been through.”
The family’s anguish began on November 6, when Amy and Steven, who works as a doorman, took Scarlett to hospital as a precaution after noticing the mark.
Amy told the Echo she took Scarlett to the short stay A&E where she was seen by a doctor who inspected her daughter’s foot and then carried out private discussion between consultants.
But when she was next seen at 9.30pm, Amy said she was told by doctors that they believed she and her partner had caused the mark through mistreatment.
She said: “What we thought was a birth mark appeared on her foot when she was six weeks old, so we took her to Pallion Health Centre as a precaution.
“They advised us to go to A&E at the hospital to get it checked out, but after being checked over, a doctor came and told us that she was being kept in as they didn’t think the environment at home was safe for her.
“I asked them if they were going to do tests on her foot, but they initially said it didn’t look like the kind of mark they would do tests on.”
Amy says she took her daughter home at 12.30am, only for police to become involved, who escorted them back to the hospital where they stayed overnight.
The next day, Amy said Scarlett was given MRI scan, full body X-ray, blood tests and her sister Esmae was also checked over, but nothing was found.
But the mum told the Echo that before any results were received, the hospital involved social services, who interviewed the parents and placed Esmae and dad Steven under supervision at home.
On November 7, Scarlett also underwent eye tests which came back clear, along with the results of the other tests.
But Amy said she was told doctors were still concerned, so on November 9, additional consultants were shown photos of the foot and decided it was a bruise.
That same day, the couple said they were forced to sign care of Esmae over to a family member overnight.
On Thursday November 10, doctors told the couple they were allowed to take their baby home.
The family say they were told skin specialists at a North East Hospital had looked at the case and said it was an unexplained mark not caused by abuse.
During the episode, the parents sought advice from former Sandhill ward councillor Jacqui Gallagher, who has over 10 years experience as an assistant social worker for the council.
She said: “I was disgusted at the way they were treated.
“In my experience as a social worker I have seen many cases of abuse and it was immediately obvious that this mark wasn’t a bruise caused by abuse.
“The parents were devastated. To be a parent and be accused of abuse when it is not true must be the worst thing in the world.”
A spokeswoman for the City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust said: “We can confirm that Scarlett Gardener was admitted to Sunderland Royal Hospital with bruise-like lesions to her foot. “As a result of this, child protection procedures were followed which are designed to keep children safe while a definite diagnosis is established.
“The potential risk of not following these processes is that children are returned prematurely to carers and are injured again, sometimes fatally.
“Fortunately the lesions on Scarlett’s foot were determined not to be bruises.
“Child protection procedures then ceased.
“In trying to keep children safe, it is always regrettable that families are naturally distressed and angered by the process especially when their child is ultimately found not to be injured.
“City Hospitals Sunderland would always wish to apologise for any distress caused by its part in the child protection process but will always seek to keep children safe.”
A spokesman from Sunderland City Council said: “While the city council and safeguarding agencies all have a duty to protect the young and vulnerable, it would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases if proceedings are active or before the outcome of any enquiry.”