Response to the Death of London McCabe

(((Trigger warning: this post discusses the death of London McCabe, a 6 year old autistic boy, killed by his Mother Jillian when she threw him from the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Oregon USA)))

I don’t usually write about these cases, they can turn into bitter debates and futile slanging matches between various parts of the autism community.
Nevertheless, something has moved me to write about this one.

To kill your child is wrong, it is abhorrent, it is unacceptable.

The parent in me says “this is tragic, it’s beyond comprehension. Don’t try to get inside the head of this case”

The professional in me says “stop. That’s the wrong approach. We NEED to try and understand this”.

As a psychiatric nurse for over a decade, I’ve been involved in cases where people in the care of services have died. In every such case, the evidence, the actions and the people involved are painstakingly reviewed so that mistakes can be identified, lessons learned and responsibilities redefined. It is a difficult reflective process, but it is part of the responsibility of the service and the professionals involved to do so.

Similarly, to reflect on the death of London McCabe, to try and understand what happened, why, and what was missed is not to condone, justify or excuse the actions of his Mother. It is not to dehumanise him, or to minimise his tragic and violent death. It is a way to make everyone – from services down to individuals – aware of how they could have acted differently, to try and minimise the risk of this ever happening again.

– Mental health services: had they offered appropriate treatment and support to Jillian McCabe? Were the necessary risk assessments conducted and risk management procedures put in place?

– Were the authorities responsible for safeguarding children involved? Were the correct protective procedures being implemented? Were they aware of the nature of Jillian McCabe’s mental health problems and the potential risks associated with this?

– Other organisations working with the family – schools, autism services, health services: were they aware of the pressures existing in the family home? Were they in dialogue with the family, and had they asked the family what they needed? What support measures were in place? Had they reported any safety concerns to the necessary authorities, and followed these reports up? Had the family been made to feel that it would be ok to admit that they could no longer keep their child safe? Had alternative options been discussed and made available?

– Multiagency working: Were the various services communicating with each other? Did they work as a team to bring together all the information so the case could be viewed in its entirety, rather than snapshots?

– Family, friends and the community: were they aware of any concerns? Had they been there to listen? Had they seen warning signs and taken steps to notify the authorities?

– Jillian McCabe: had she really been honest about how desperate she was feeling? Had she begun to feel the warning signs (because there would have been some) in herself, that her ability to cope was coming to an end, had she talked to doctors, psychiatric services, the police – anyone. Had she tried to make a plan about how she could keep herself and London safe if she was no longer able to trust herself? Had she shared that plan? Did she have any other option, Any other course of action she could have taken?

Responsibility. Down the line. From organisations to individuals.

This is not a comprehensive review of all the factors, I don’t know all the details of the case, I never will, but I do know this: There are always ways that services could have done better, there are always signs that things are starting to go wrong, and there is ALWAYS another option than taking the life of your child.