An innocent mother who spotted a tiny bruise on her baby son’s arm was separated from him for four months while an investigation into potential abuse was carried out.
Holly Kobayashi, then 36, was breastfeeding when she noticed the 5p piece-sized bruise on her son Adventure’s arm.
She brought it up to the midwife who visited the next day, fearing that it might be a sign of illness, but within two hours she was being escorted to hospital and the police were called.
And because at the time Ms Kobayashi lived in North Tyneside – one of eight local authorities in England which launches a formal investigation over a single unexplained bruise on a baby – she was separated from her son.
She was forced to endure a four-month fight to win custody of her son and prove she could care for him after he was taken in 2017.
Holly Kobayashi (pictured), then 36, was breastfeeding when she noticed the 5p piece-sized bruise on her son Adventure’s arm
The investigation was so traumatising that Ms Kobayashi now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and still has flashbacks to when she was separated from her baby Adventure.
Children’s services departments in from the area say formal investigations are needed because unexplained bruises in babies are rare and could be a telltale sign of abuse.
However, the rules mean that children are being taken from innocent parents and forced to undergo multiple x-rays and scans.
The number of child investigations that lead to no further action has tripled from 43,400 in 2010 to 134,620 last year.
An independent review into children’s social care is due to start next month.
Ms Kobayashi said that as soon as she asked the midwife to look at the unexplained bruise she could tell she was under suspicion.
Once she had been escorted with Adventure to Northumbria hospital, the baby was examined and a paediatrician asked Ms Kobayashi to explain how the bruise appeared.
She brought it up to the midwife who visited the next day, fearing that it might be a sign of illness but within two hours she was being escorted to hospital and the police were called
Ms Kobayashi suggested it may have appeared after she caught him to stop him falling from her lap the previous evening.
However, because a definitive answer couldn’t be reached the bruise was logged as medically unexplained and social services told Ms Kobayashi that Adventure would have to be put into care while the case was investigated.
When Ms Kobayashi refused, the police were called and officers told her to go home without her baby. She was only allowed to return to deliver pumped breast milk.
She told The Sunday Times: ‘That moment of being made to leave, by the law, the police, the social workers, was like being tortured.’
Even though police didn’t find enough evidence to prosecute Ms Kobayashi, they still continued their investigation and put Adventure in the care of Ms Kobayashi’s brother Graham who lived more than an hour away.
Ms Kobayashi was only allowed limited visits which were supervised. Four months later, in January 2018, Adventure was finally allowed to return home to his mother.
The director of children’s and adults’ services at North Tyneside said the measures are in place to ensure the safety of children in their area and that the length of investigations isn’t up to them.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said it could not comment on individual cases.
Once she had been escorted with Adventure to Northumbria hospital (pictured), the baby was examined and a paediatrician asked Ms Kobayashi to explain how the bruise appeared
Ms Kobayashi now lives in Gloucestershire and works as a therapist. She told The Times: ‘If he’s ever got any bruise on him now I really freak out … I worry so much that I’ll go to nursery and there’ll be a social worker there saying he’s not coming home.’
And Ms Kobayashi isn’t the only mother who has experienced such treatment, Alexandra, 40, from Surrey, was almost separated from her son when she took him to hospital with concerns over a rash.
The mother brought her five-month-old son to the Royal Surrey County Hospital last November because she feared her child had a bowel problem that could be causing a rash on his knee.
She said doctors then listed the blotchy skin as an unexplained bruise and forced the pair to stay in hospital for four days while the baby underwent dozens of x-rays and an MRI scan before being allowed to return home.
The chief executive of the Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust, Louise Stead, told The Times: ‘Our aim with any potential safeguarding concern is always to prevent harm and protect children.
‘We understand that this process can be an upsetting experience for parents, and are sorry for the distress this has caused the family.’
A former professor of child health at Cardiff University, Alison Kemp, found that while accidental bruising in young babies is rare, it does happen and more than one in 20 pre-mobile babies had a bruise which wasn’t treated as suspicious.
In her study, accepted explanations for bruises included bumping into a mother’s tooth, falling asleep on a dummy and banging themselves with a fist or rattle.
However, Greater Manchester’s safeguarding authority states: ‘Infants DO NOT bruise themselves by lying on a dummy or banging themselves with rattles and other infant toys or by flopping forwards and banging their heads against their parents’ faces.’
And North Lincolnshire’s council says that any ‘explanation that any injury, barring a small scratch, is self-inflicted should not be accepted’.
Ms Kemp said that if councils imply that any bruise in a baby which isn’t yet crawling is abuse is unhelpful.
She told The Times: ‘A lot of these guidelines are badly written and likely to result in a ”black and white” view.’
However there is evidence to suggest that bruises can be a signifier for abuse. A US study last year found 54 per cent of babies in hospital with unexplained bruises were recorded as having suffered abuse.
Unexplained bruises in Sunderland, North Lincolnshire, North Tyneside, Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Luton, Kingston and Richmond will trigger a formal section 47 investigation.
A section 47 investigation comprises of a formal inquiry in cases where serious harm is suspected.