SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This policy is for anyone who may encounter a woman who conceals the fact that they are pregnant or where a professional has a suspicion that a pregnancy is being concealed or denied.
The concealment of a pregnancy represents a challenge for professionals in safeguarding the welfare and the wellbeing of the foetus (unborn child) and the mother. There is no national agreed definition of what constitutes a concealed pregnancy, however a coordinated multi-agency approach is required once the fact of a pregnancy has been established; this will also apply to future pregnancies where there has been a previous concealed pregnancy. Concealment of pregnancy may be revealed late in pregnancy, in labour or following delivery. The birth may be unassisted (no midwife) whereby there might be additional risks to the child and mother's welfare and long-term outcomes.
A concealed pregnancy is when:
For the purpose of this guidance the phrase concealed pregnancy is used for both denied and concealed pregnancies. A denied pregnancy is when a woman is unaware of or unable to accept the existence of her pregnancy. Physical changes to the body may not be present or misconstrued; they may be intellectually aware of the pregnancy but continue to think, feel and behave as though they were not pregnant. In some cases a woman may be in denial of her pregnancy due to mental illness, substance misuse or as a result of a history of loss of a child or children.
For the purpose of this policy and procedure any reference to woman includes female of child bearing capacity (including under 18's).
A pregnancy will not be considered to be concealed or denied for the purpose of this procedure until it is confirmed to be at least 24 weeks; this is the point of viability. However by the very nature of concealment or denial it is not possible for anyone suspecting a girl/woman is concealing or denying a pregnancy to be certain of the stage the pregnancy is at.
When making a referral to Children's Social Care it is not essential to wait until 24 weeks if there is a known pregnancy and obvious safeguarding concerns and the case is likely to be complex.
In some cases a girl/woman may be unaware that she is pregnant until late in the pregnancy due to a learning disability. Concealment may occur as a result of stigma, shame or fear because the pregnancy may be the result of incest, sexual abuse, rape or as part of a violent relationship.
The potential risks to a baby through the concealment of a pregnancy are difficult to predict and wide-ranging. One key implication is that there is no obstetric history or record of antenatal care prior to the birth of the baby. Some women may present late for booking (after 24 weeks of pregnancy) and these pregnancies need to be closely monitored to assess future engagement with health professionals, particularly midwives and whether or not referral to another agency is indicated. In a case of a denied pregnancy the effects of going into labour and giving birth can be traumatic.
The reason for the concealment will be a key factor in determining the risk to the child and that reason will not be known until there has been a systematic multi-agency assessment. See Assessment Procedure.
In the following circumstances of a concealed pregnancy, a referral (see Referrals Procedure) to Children's Social Care may be appropriate in order that a multi-agency assessment of risk can be determined:
Substance-misusing young people may avoid seeking help during pregnancy if they fear that this disclosure will inevitably lead to statutory agencies removing their child. It may be important to consider the role of collusion within the family.
Where the mother is, or may have been at the time of conception, under the age of 16, professionals should follow the processes outlined in Underage Sexual Activity Procedure. Where there is a strong suspicion that a pregnancy is being concealed, it may be necessary to share this information with other agencies, irrespective of whether the young person consents - see Information Sharing Procedure. Every effort should be made to encourage the (young) person to obtain medical advice. If there is a referral to Social Care it will be made on behalf of the unborn child. If the mother is under 16, she will also be the subject of a referral as there may also be a criminal offence to be investigated.
In some circumstances, agencies or individuals are able to anticipate the likelihood of Significant Harm with regard to an expected baby which must be addressed as early as possible to maximise time for full assessment, enabling a healthy pregnancy and supporting parents so that (where possible) they can provide safe care.
The circumstances leading to concealment of pregnancy need to be explored individually as there may be potentially serious child protection outcomes as a result of a concealed pregnancy and a detailed interagency assessment should be undertaken. All agencies should ensure that information about the concealment is shared with other relevant agencies, to ensure its significance is not lost and to ensure that potential future risks can be fully assessed and managed.
All professionals should follow the Referrals Procedure process.
Where there is strong suspicion that a young person is concealing or denying the pregnancy then it is necessary to share this information, irrespective of whether consent to disclose can be obtained or has been given. In these circumstances the welfare of the unborn child will override the mother's right to confidentiality. A referral should be made to Children's Social Care about the unborn child. If the woman is aged less than 18 years then consideration will be given to whether she is a Child in Need. If she is less than 16 years then a criminal offence may have been committed and needs to be investigated.
The reasons will not be known until an assessment has been carried out. If there is a denial of pregnancy, consideration must be given, at the earliest opportunity, to refer the girl/woman to mental health services.
Midwives and midwifery services:
If a woman arrives at the hospital in labour or following an unassisted delivery, where a booking has not been made, then an urgent referral must be made to the Children's Social Care. If this occurs on an evening, weekend or over a public holiday then the Emergency Duty Team must be informed.
If the baby has been harmed in any way or there is a suspicion of harm, or the child is abandoned by the mother then the Police must be informed immediately and a referral made to Children's Social Care.
Midwives should ensure that information regarding the concealed pregnancy is placed on the baby's, as well as the mother's, health records. Following an unassisted delivery or a concealed/denied pregnancy, midwives need to be alert to the level of engagement shown by the mother, and her partner/extended family if observed, and of receptiveness to future contact with health professionals. In addition midwives must be observant of the level of attachment behaviour demonstrated in the early postpartum period.
In cases where there has been concealment and denial of pregnancy, especially where there has been unassisted delivery, a referral for a full mental health assessment of the mother should be considered. In addition to this, a referral should be made to Children's Social Care, even if the delivery has taken place in the hospital. The baby should not be discharged until relevant assessments have been undertaken. There should be robust communication between maternity services and primary care to highlight if a pregnancy was booked late, concealed or denied.
Although the law does not identify an unborn baby as a separate legal entity, this should not prevent plans being made and put into place to protect the baby from harm both during pregnancy and after the birth.
In certain instances, legal action may be available to secure medical intervention to protect the health and well-being of the mother and thereby the unborn child. This may arise in cases where the mother lacks capacity due to mental illness, learning difficulty, her young age or some other circumstance. The absence of support for intervention from parents or carers may be overcome by the use of legal intervention.
Only valid for 48hrs