Page last updated at 16:57 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Controversy of mother who told girl of Caesarean

By Daniel Thomas
BBC News, Birmingham

Shahnaz Malik
Shahnaz Malik says she is being made to feel "like a criminal"

A family which defied child protection authorities has made headlines in recent days, but not for the usual reasons.

"Mother branded as abuser for telling daughter of Caesarean," warned The Sunday Times.

"Mother accused of 'emotional abuse' for telling daughter of Caesarean," echoed The Daily Telegraph.

It was the story of 41-year-old Birmingham mother and masters graduate Shahnaz Malik.

In late January she disappeared off the radar with her five-year-old daughter after the child was put on a Child Protection Plan; the suspected victim of "emotional abuse".

On 19 February the family was due to attend a Child Protection Conference.

When they failed to turn up, their apartment was raided by police over concern for the child's welfare.

The father was later arrested for obstruction, but the mother and child had long gone. And they haven't come back.

'Stomach cut open'

The headlines were not incorrect. Questions about a conversation on Caesareans between mother and child did crop up during police inquiries.

In December, Ms Malik made a complaint to police against her child's nursery, claiming a teacher had grabbed her daughter's arm too hard.

Following that, IT consultant husband Vijay Bansal, 42, was called into Birmingham Ladywood police station and asked a series of questions.

Khyra Ishaq
Social service referrals have risen by up to 40% since Khyra Ishaq's death

He told the BBC: "They told me 'somebody at the nursery has heard your wife tell your daughter she has had her stomach cut open'."

He added: "They also said 'your wife was cuddling her daughter for 10-15 minutes'."

Ms Malik freely accepts she told the child about Caesarean birth, and once hugged her child for a long time at the nursery gates.

"I was trying to find a way of leaving my child in an amicable way," she said.

So, a Child Protection Plan - which places the child on what used to be known as the "at risk" register - for hugging a child and telling her about Caesareans?

'Challenging behaviour'

Well... "no", says the committee which reviewed her case.

By her own admission Ms Malik has suffered a strained relationship with Birmingham City Council Children's Social Care.

She made a complaint against a health visitor and refused to attend some meetings, including the one which put her daughter in the Child Protection Plan.

[The child] has been observed by both health and nursery staff to have very challenging behaviour and difficulties interacting and engaging
Child Protection Conference Minutes

Birmingham City Council refuses to discuss individual, ongoing cases, but in case documents seen by the BBC, a GP reported the child was "unruly," adding Ms Malik did not intervene when the child misbehaved.

Nursery staff said the child expressed "very challenging behaviour" and swore.

In notes produced by the Child Protection Conference, West Midlands Police describe Ms Malik as "manipulative and overpowering" when making complaints about the nursery - complaints which were later dropped.

There are also concerns over the child's education, with Ms Malik saying she is not currently willing to put her child into a conventional school.

Past mistakes

But many people say the child is not in any serious danger, the concerns are minor and the council overcautious.

Indeed, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, John Hemming, called the case "trivial," and Ms Malik rejects many of the allegations.

Behind the "nanny state versus victimised family" claims, the case is one of many which represent the tightrope care services increasingly feel they must walk when dealing with children.

It can be a case of you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
Colin Tucker, Birmingham City Council

And Birmingham City Council has more reason than most to be sensitive.

Last month its children's services were savaged by a High Court Judge following the death of Khyra Ishaq.

Seven-year-old Khyra was starved to death by her mother and stepfather while she was meant to be being tutored at home.

Then, Birmingham was pilloried for not doing enough for Khyra. Now the same department risks being too interfering when death is not a threat.

Director for Children's Social Care at Birmingham City Council, Colin Tucker, said: "It can be a case of you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

"People want to portray things as black and white but the reality in social care is that we are dealing with very complex situations.

"Staff are trained to focus on the needs and welfare of children first and foremost and this does not always coincide with the views of the parents."

Since Khyra's death in 2008, there has been an increase in referrals to Children's Social Care of between 35 and 40%, according to the council.

Police concern

Birmingham City Council said some 22,000 cases of abuse are referred each year in the city, and at any one time 1,400 children are subject of Child Protection Plans.

On Thursday Ms Malik's child was presented to police by her brother. In that instance the girl was allowed to return to her mother.

John Hemming MP
John Hemming MP says the case proves how 'trivial' some referrals are

West Midlands Police have written to John Hemming MP to say they still have concerns Ms Malik may continue to avoid contact with social services and try to leave the country.

"If contact is made with social services," the email reads, "then the police have no further role to play."

Yet it remains the role social services plays which is in dispute, with views of their actions ranging from heavy-handed to callous.

Getting it wrong, in either direction, leaves behind a devastation far more serious than any headline.

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