Baby Charlotte Faces Foster Care As Parents Can’t Cope

{mosimage} A severely disabled child whose parents fought a long legal battle to ensure she was kept alive is to be placed in foster care because her parents have been judged unfit to look after her.

Brain-damaged Charlotte Wyatt has confounded the predictions of doctors who wanted permission to switch off her life support machine and will turn three on Saturday. Her parents Darren, 34, and Debbie, 25, ran up a £500,000 legal bill for the taxpayer as they fought for two years in the courts to force the hospital looking after her to ensure she was resuscitated.

Eventually, the Wyatts argued, she could be looked after at home. Their successful legal battle was hailed as a moral triumph by those who believe cost should be no object in keeping a child alive even if they require a lifetime of intensive care.

But despite now being well enough to leave hospital, doctors say she cannot go home to her mother or father as there is no stable two-parent home for her to go to.

Doctors say that neither Mr nor Mrs Wyatt, who both survive on benefits, would on their own be able to provide their daughter with the 24-hour care she needs.

And since February it is understood that social workers have been seeking foster parents willing to take on the heavy responsibility of looking after little Charlotte, who has the mental ability of the average 12-week-old baby. So far no-one has been willing do so.

The case continues the controversy surrounding the child, who was born three months prematurely, weighing just 1lb and less than five inches long, with severe brain and lung damage.

Costs for her medical care are mounting at around £300 a day, and the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust continues to be her carer because there is no longer anyone ready and suitable to take on the role.

Charlotte’s cost to public purse now standing at £1.1m, including £600,000 expenditure by the NHS. Although Charlotte has recovered well from a life-threatening viral infection she experienced in February this year, she remains seriously ill.

Her doctors estimate that her life expectancy should be measured in ‘months and years’ rather than ‘weeks and months’, but she is constantly hooked up to an oxygen tank and needs three litres of oxygen every minute.

Food comes through a nose tube. Although she is given some small amounts of solid food in her mouth, this is so that she can experience the pleasure of eating rather than to sustain her. According to the most recent assessment of her condition she has ‘profound neurological impairment’.

Charlotte’s father Mr Wyatt is unemployed and lives alone in a two-bedroom council flat in Portsmouth.

He split in January from wife Debbie, with whom he has three other children, Christina, 11 months, David, two, and Daniel, four. He said David and Daniel lived with Debbie in Portchester, a suburb of Portsmouth.

Yesterday Mr Wyatt – who claims to visit Charlotte ‘almost every day’ – told the Daily Mail that Portsmouth Social Services have been looking for a foster home for Charlotte ever since she recovered from a viral infection in February.

Mr Wyatt said: ‘She has been well enough to leave for months, but because Debbie and I are not together she hasn’t got a stable home to go to.

‘Social Services are supposed to be looking for a foster home for her but they don’t seem to be able to find one. I took an overdose after Debbie left and they had to assess me to see if I could cope.

‘I have offered to take her, and if I had the proper care package and people helping me then I could do it – but they said “No” because it would be too much.

‘I have been saying this ever since February, but they just don’t believe that I could offer her the proper care. I don’t understand why they can’t at least try it.

‘I said I could work during the day and they could have a carer coming in to help me get her into bed. But Social Services said “No, sorry, we don’t do that”.

‘Hopefully she’ll be put into care somewhere nearby and I’ll be able to go and see her every day.’

In order to look after her at home Mr Wyatt would need to be equiped with oxygen breathing machinery and nasal-gastric feeding equipment, plus spare equipment if either broke down.

Charlotte’s doctor, Simon Birch, said in a recent letter to her father: ‘While limited in scope for interaction, Charlotte has an appreciation of her environment and can take pleasure in this.

‘For example, she seems happy on hearing specific types of music and enjoys anticipation games such as “Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear”.’

Charlotte must takes six different types of drug a total of eleven times, every day, yet Dr Birch estimates that her life expectancy outside hospital would be the same as it is in hospital.

He wrote earlier this month: ‘On a day-to-day basis her care could now be given outside hospital. With potential for quite good life quality, I would regard a more natural, stable and stimulating environment as the highest priority for Charlotte.

‘If discharged from hospital, she would have access to return if required – as does any child.’ Last night Mrs Wyatt was not available for comment.

Neither Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust nor Portsmouth City Council had any spokesman prepared to discuss the future of Charlotte Wyatt. But Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe said the doctors fighting for the right to leave Charlotte to die had placed an intolerable strain on her parents’ relationship.

Miss Widdecombe said: ‘Doctors spent the first two years of that child’s life trying to end it. The amazing thing is that the family kept going for as long as they did.’

On Saturday, instead of celebrating her birthday at home with her mother and father, Charlotte is to have a small party on her ward in St Mary’s hospital in Portsmouth. It is unclear whether her parents will attend.