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EastEnders character
Janet mitchell.JPG
Janet Mitchell
Portrayed by Grace
Created by Kate Harwood
Duration 2006–2008, 2009
First appearance 5 September 2006
Last appearance 15 December 2009
Classification Present; recurring
Profile
Date of birth 4 September 2006

Janet Mitchell is a recurring fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by a baby named Grace,[1] who has Down's syndrome.

Contents

Character creation

A newborn Janet.

It was reported on 22 July 2006 that a character with Down's syndrome would be introduced to EastEnders. The newborn daughter of established characters Billy and Honey Mitchell, the baby was to be named Janet.[2]

An EastEnders source said "We will strive to handle this storyline sensitively" and Carol Boys, of the Down's Syndrome Association commented: "We are delighted that EastEnders should feature a baby with Down's syndrome. What a great way to get the message across that having a baby with Down's syndrome is not the end of the world."[2]

Storylines

Janet is born on 4 September 2006, the day of her parents' wedding. Billy and Honey had already agreed to name the baby Janet, after Honey's mother who died when Honey was born. Janet is diagnosed with Down's syndrome shortly after her birth.

Janet being held by her parents.

Honey has trouble coming to terms with Janet's condition, and when it is revealed that Janet needs a heart operation, Honey says it will be better for everyone if the baby dies. Honey then refuses to let the baby be named Janet, as she does not visualise "Janet"'s future that way. Billy has already started calling her "Petal" as a term of affection, so suggests that they name her that.

Petal is brought home from the hospital, and Honey finds it hard to cope, wanting to have her adopted. She considers smothering the baby with a pillow, but cannot do it. Honey runs away to her father, Jack's canal boat in Kent. Billy tracks her down and takes Petal with him. He puts her by the canal, saying that people used to leave babies with Down's syndrome outdoors overnight, and if the baby survived, they'd keep it. Honey is shocked by Billy's actions and he picks her up and they go home.

Despite her father's courage and love for her, her mother's fear of bringing up a child with Down's Syndrome wins out, and the pair put her up for adoption, giving her up to a foster family, Kim and Tony Smith, just prior to Christmas. However, when Petal is taken into hospital for major surgery, Billy goes to her, and when Honey reads Billy's letter to an adult Petal, she follows, walking in on her Christening, and announcing her name — Janet. Doctors say she will be fine after surgery.

On Janet's first birthday, Peggy, Ronnie and Roxy throw a party, but it is crashed by Phil Mitchell who is drunk and falls onto the cake. Janet became a big sister to William, who has a traumatic birth but pulls through. Unlike Janet, he does not have Down's syndrome.

Janet leaves Walford with her mother and brother in September 2008 after her father lies to Honey about keeping half of Jase Dyer's money when he was supposed to donate it to charity. It is revealed that they are living with Jack again. Janet returns a few times, once for a family photo, and again in January 2009, when Ronnie sacks Billy after he gets a last-minute phone call from Honey saying he can see the children. Ronnie changes her mind seeing Janet in her highchair, painting and looking cute and gives Billy his job back saying they are family. Janet appears again for Billy's 50th birthday, and the day before her own third birthday in September 2009. In December 2009, Honey tells Billy she is taking the children to her father's for Christmas, but Archie Mitchell calls Honey to tell her that Billy will have Archie's house all to himself, and she lets Billy have the children for two weeks until Boxing Day.

Reception

The storyline involving the birth of Janet Mitchell has been criticised by the Royal College of Midwives, who claim the storyline was inaccurate and unrealistic. They claim that Honey should not have been refused an epidural and should not have been told about her daughter's condition without her husband being present. Further to this, Honey and the baby were being looked after by a character who was repeatedly referred to as "nurse Cheryl", when in fact, a midwife would be present, and would check on the baby continuously, rather than leave the mother alone to worry and then disappear without being noticed. They also claim that the baby appeared rigid when in fact she should have been floppy, and that nobody opened the baby's blanket to check.[3]

The BBC say a great deal of research was undertaken such as talking to families with children who have Down's syndrome, and liaising with a senior midwife as well as the Down's Syndrome Association. The BBC say Honey was not refused an epidural but had actually locked herself away in the bathroom. They were also unable to cast a baby with Down's syndrome for the first few episodes, which is why the baby appeared rigid.[3] The Down's Syndrome Association say that the way in which Billy and Honey found out about their baby's condition and their subsequent support is not a best practice model, but is still a realistic situation.[4]

Conversely, learning disability charity Mencap have praised the soap, saying it will help to raise awareness.[5]

References


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