|First appearance||Episode 3216
5 September 2006
|Introduced by||Kate Harwood (2006)
Diederick Santer (2010)
Bryan Kirkwood (2011)
Dominic Treadwell-Collins (2014)
|Billy's Olympic Nightmare (2012)|
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 (Perry Fenwick) and Honey Mitchell (Emma Barton), the baby was to be named Janet. An EastEnders source said, "We will strive to handle this storyline sensitively" and Carol Boys, of the Down's Syndrome Association added, "We are delighted that EastEnders 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."
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. Janet is diagnosed with Down's syndrome shortly after her birth. 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 (Nicky Henson) 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 (Lorraine Arnold) and Tony Smith (Enzo Squillino Jr.), just prior to Christmas. However, when "Petal" is taken into hospital for major surgery, Billy goes to see 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. Janet moves away with Honey and William, after Billy's relationship with Honey did not work out. However, they still go to visit Billy every Saturday.
In May 2010, Billy is forced to look after Janet and William, after Honey and Jack are involved in a car crash. He struggles to tell them that Jack has died, and that Honey is in a critical condition. Later that night, Billy finds Janet playing with the drugs that Billy had been attempting to sell before he found out about the crash, and with that, he sends her to Phil's. In July 2011, Janet and William meet their niece Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold). William and Janet later appear when Billy is carrying the Olympic torch for the London Olympics 2012 in a special live segment of the soap. Janet returns on 24 February 2014, with her brother, William. She returns again on 27 May 2014, when Honey visits Walford to tell Billy that she is moving to Canada with the children. Billy is devastated and burns Janet's passport to try and stop them from leaving. Honey remains determined, but decides to leave Janet with Billy, when she realises how well she is doing in the UK. Janet says goodbye to Honey and William, before officially moving in with Billy, Lola and Lola's daughter, Lexi Pearce (Dotti-Beau Cotterill), until Lola and Lexi leave.
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.
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. 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. Conversely, learning disability charity Mencap have praised the soap, saying it will help to raise awareness.
- BBC One - EastEnders, 24/02/2014
- "Down's baby in Enders, The Sun. URL last accessed 2008-04-13.
- "BBC soap EastEnders slammed over Down's Syndrome baby birth". 24dash.com. 2006-09-13. Archived from the original on 2006-09-14. Retrieved 2006-09-28.
- "Midwives attack EastEnders plot". BBC News. 2006-09-12. Retrieved 2006-09-28.
- "Mencap praise for Down's syndrome soap story". bounty.com. Archived from the original on October 18, 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-28.
- Sandwell, Ian (3 May 2016). "EastEnders and Hollyoaks top the shortlist for the British Soap Awards 2016". Digital Spy. Retrieved 3 May 2016.