Learning Your Child Has Cerebral Palsy – What Next?

13 August 2020

Caroline Klage, Partner and Head of the Child Brain Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, discusses next steps following a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

Through years of representing inspirational children with brain injuries and working with their amazing families, I understand that in the early days in particular, parents can often feel completely overwhelmed and sometimes devastated to learn their child has cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a lifelong neurological condition that affects muscle control and movement. It is caused by injury to the brain.

Questions, questions, questions……

After receiving a diagnosis of CP, so many questions, concerns and anxieties will spring to mind. Many parents will want to learn more about the condition, their baby’s needs and how best they can meet them.

They will also be worried and want to know more about how the condition might affect the development and life of their baby and also, the lives of siblings as well as family life and work. Pondering these questions can ultimately lead parents to ask themselves:
• Why has this happened?
• Could this have been avoided?

In my experience, the quality of care a mother and baby receives during pregnancy, labour, birth and/or shortly after birth could sometimes hold the answers to these two important questions.

What causes cerebral palsy?

CP can be caused by injury to a baby’s brain, either during pregnancy, labour, birth and/or shortly after birth.

Injury to a baby’s brain can be caused by a number of different things including:

  1. Lack of oxygen to the brain
  2. Infection
  3. A combination of 1 and 2 above
  4. Stroke, where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.

Midwives and obstetricians monitor the baby’s heart rate during labour to ensure the baby is well throughout. They should be alert to signs which indicate that a baby is in distress during labour and so needs to be delivered urgently, such as worrying changes in the baby’s heart rate. When these signs are not picked up and acted upon promptly by midwives (by alerting an obstetric registrar, for example), there can be a delay in delivering the baby. During this delay, the baby may be deprived of oxygen which causes brain damage.

Where the baby’s mother has an infection that has not been detected or has not been adequately treated or monitored, it could spread from the mother to the baby in the womb, making the baby more vulnerable to brain injury in the event there is a delay in delivering the baby.

The infection, Group B Streptococcus (Group B Strep), if active in the mother, can cause the baby to suffer meningitis, which can cause brain injury and cerebral palsy. Sometimes, symptoms indicating that a new born baby is suffering from this very serious disease can be missed by healthcare professionals, either in hospital or in the community in the days after discharge, resulting in brain injury.

What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?

Children with CP will experience difficulties in controlling their muscles and movement. The main symptoms are muscle weakness, muscle stiffness, random and uncontrolled body movements, balance and coordination problems, seizures or fits and swallowing difficulties.

These symptoms affect different parts of the body and will vary in severity from child to child. Sometimes, the symptoms are noticeable in babies who may struggle to feed and/or have seizures, but also, they can become more noticeable as a child gets older and struggles to develop in line with other children and in particular, fails to meet developmental milestones.

In mild cases, intelligence is unaffected but a child may still have learning difficulties, sometimes meeting the criteria for other conditions including Autistic Spectrum Condition and ADHD. In severe cases, intelligence and mental development will be affected and the child will have both communication and learning difficulties.

The complex needs of children with CP

All parents of children with CP want to make sure that their children have the specialist care, therapy, equipment and environment they deserve to help them to thrive.

Children with CP may require a professional package of specialist care, neuropsychology input, various therapies (physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy) and treatment. They will also need specialist equipment and assistive technology devices. They will have specific accommodation needs which may mean that either an existing home will need to be adapted or a new home purchased and adapted. Their environment should provide the appropriate space, layout and features to facilitate the smooth running of their care and therapy package with minimal intrusion into family life. Arrangements will also need to be made to ensure their education needs are being properly met.

No two children will be affected in the same way. It’s therefore important to ensure that the child’s care and therapy package and also their education is tailored to meet their specific needs.

If a child has CP as a result of a mistake made by healthcare professionals during pregnancy, labour, birth and/or shortly after birth, then a compensation claim can provide for all of the child’s complex needs. Compensation brings with it the invaluable peace of mind that funds will always be available to meet the child’s needs for life.

What to do next

If you think that your child’s CP might have been caused by substandard medical care during pregnancy, labour, birth and/or shortly after birth, then you should contact a specialist child brain injury solicitor. They will discuss with you what happened, obtain your medical records and your child’s medical records, seek opinions from medical experts about the standard of care you and your child received and advise you about what compensation you might be able to pursue on behalf of your child to ensure your child can flourish and thrive.

It may well be you received a good standard of care, and sadly your child’s injury was unavoidable. But if your child’s injury was due to substandard medical care, then as well as providing compensation and peace of mind that your child’s lifelong needs will always be met, a claim can help identify issues in the care you and your child received, improve learning and change the way that systems operate, to try and avoid the mistakes which caused your child’s injuries from being repeated and further harm being caused to other babies.

Our CP hub offers advice, guidance and resources for parents about many aspects of raising a child with cerebral palsy which you may find useful.

My team and I are incredibly passionate about helping each child we work with to flourish and achieve the best quality of life possible.

Caroline Klage , Partner and Head of Child Brain Injury team, Bolt Burdon Kemp

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