Child Abuse in Plain Sight Motherhood and Medical Mistreatment

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Dee Dee Blanchard was an exemplary parent, relentlessly working to provide for her critically ill child, Gypsy. She was her daughter’s full-time caregiver. Gypsy was extremely small and frail and used a wheelchair.

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On her face donned a large pair of glasses and her skinny frame was often accompanied by an oxygen tank. When asked, Dee Dee would regurgitate a long list of problems that ailed Gypsy, everything from epilepsy to eye problems. Figure 1 to the right shows the happy mother-and-daughter-duo a little after Gypsy had turned 8. However, do not be fooled. Behind the doting, rosy-cheeked face of Dee Dee hid an incredibly dangerous child abuser. After Dee Dee was murdered by Gypsy, it became clear that her daughter had never actually been sick, and Dee Dee had fabricated everything (Diaz & Valiente, 2018). The story quickly gained national interest, bringing Munchausen syndrome by proxy to the public’s attention. With an increasing number of child abuse and maltreatment cases reported each year, it is crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of lesser-known types, such as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and appropriately work to prevent and treat it.

Recognizing the Disorder

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP) is often used synonymously with several terms including illness induction syndrome and fabricated or induced illness. Definitions vary slightly but it is described by Carter, Izsak, & Marlow (2010) as An often misdiagnosed form of child abuse in which a parent or caregiver, usually the mother, intentionally creates or feigns an illness in order to keep the child (and therefore the adult) in prolonged contact with health providers. The caretaker induces imaginary symptoms so that the child receives unneeded treatment. Unsuspecting medical professionals, who want to believe the perpetrators, accede to their demands and perform tests and administer treatments that unintentionally harm the child. Thus, they are unknowingly caught into the cycle of abuse.

One of the reasons medical personnel are easily tricked into prescribing unnecessary medications and ordering irrelevant tests is because the symptoms of the abuser are extremely difficult to identify.

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