Southampton couple feared they would lose baby over false abuse claims
11:00am Saturday 2nd February 2013
A COUPLE suffered “three weeks of hell” after social workers accused them of harming their baby daughter.
Kelly Cook and partner Ian Hutchison found themselves under investigation, leaving them terrified that seven-week-old Ava would be taken away from them.
Their traumatic ordeal began after their health visitor, during a regular check-up a week before Christmas, noticed a reddish mark on the bottom of Ava's right foot and called in Southampton City Council's child services.
Convinced it was a bruise - which a baby so young would have been unable to cause itself - social services immediately drafted in the police and doctors as they launched an investigation into the young family who were left petrified that they would lose their daughter.
Within hours Kelly, 35, and Ian, 31, found themselves under investigation at the hospital where a number of paediatricians and a dermatologist examined Ava.
Unable to rule out a birthmark they were asked to bring Ava back two days later for a second look.
But on this visit the dermatologist was not there and because the mark had faded it was judged to be a bruise and Ava was forced to undergo numerous tests, scans and x-rays.
Desperate Kelly and Ian insisted that the mark was not a bruise and said it kept reappearing and fading.
They even provided photographic evidence to prove it but nobody listened. They were told that social services believed Ava was at serious risk of harm and her parents were only allowed to keep her if they stayed with Ian's parents.
But despite the serious concerns over Ava's safety, the family did not see or hear from social services for nine days over the Christmas period, leaving them totally in the dark of what was happening.
It wasn't until December 31, when a social worker finally did visit, that she witnessed the mark appearing and disappearing on Ava's foot, proving what her parents had been arguing from the start - that it wasn't a bruise.
A week later an examination by a dermatologist at the hospital confirmed that it was not a bruise and within ten minutes Kelly and carpenter Ian got the call they had been longing for.
They were told that the case against them was closed and they could return home with Ava.
But there was no apology or explanation.
Now Kelly and Ian, from Shirley, Southampton, are demanding answers from social services about why they were never listened to, why Ava was never visited while they were staying at her grandparents house if she was deemed to be at serious risk and why they have not yet received an apology.
Kelly, a legal secretary, said: “We were effectively house bound over Christmas. We couldn't go anywhere without Ian's parents and even my parents had to be police checked before we could go to their house on Boxing Day.
“Yet what we cannot understand is that if they were so worried about Ava, why did no one come and visit us for nine days? It makes no sense.
“Had they listened to us, looked at the photos I had taken of Ava's foot, this could have all been cleared up within two days.
“Instead, they refused to listen. They ruined our first Christmas with Ava, which we will never get back and we spent weeks petrified that we might lose her.
“What they have put Ava through, with all the tests, scans and x-rays, being poked and prodded, is abuse in itself. It has been very traumatic for Ava to go through all that.
“I think it is disgusting and they haven't even apologised.
“We were put through three weeks of hell and we want this exposed so that other innocent families do not endure the grief and heartache that we have been through with our baby daughter.”
Ava is now waiting for an outpatient's appointment with the dermatologist to determine what the mark is.
Kelly and Ian have made a formal complaint to Southampton City Council’s social services over their handling of the case in the hope that changes can be made to prevent other parents going through the same trauma.
After a meeting with social services bosses earlier this week, the family are now waiting for a report into their case, expected to be complete by Tuesday.
When the Daily Echo asked the council to comment on Ava’s case and the claims made by her parents a spokesman said: “We are unable to speak about individual cases but the council does take any complaint it receives seriously and this follows a standard procedure based on national guidelines.
“In order to ensure that a complaint is fully investigated, there is a time line to ensure the complainant knows when they will receive an answer.”