Civil Liberties

Two Parents Weren't Sure How Their Little Girl Fractured Her Leg, So CPS Took the Kids

Another heart-wrenching state-sanctioned kidnapping.


Sad girl

Here's another horrifying case from the Family Defense Center in Chicago. A baby's fractured leg convinced the Department of Child and Family Services that she had been abused, despite the fact that fractures like hers are common in kids, and there was absolutely no other evidence against the parents.

The state fought tooth and nail to keep the kids. I'm not sure what would've happened if the family hadn't gotten expert legal help:

In the early afternoon of February 3, "Cassie" S., mother of 13 month-old "Hannah" and 8-year-old "Maya," first noticed after Hannah got down from her high chair that the toddler wasn't putting weight on her left leg. Thinking at first that perhaps Hannah's leg had just fallen asleep, Cassie's mother put Hannah down for her nap while Cassie left for her nursing school class, calling her husband "Nate" to let him know that she was watching to see if something was wrong with Hannah's leg. When Hannah continued not to use the leg after waking up, Cassie and Nate called their pediatrician, who advised them to give her Tylenol, keep an eye on her, and bring her to an appointment the next day.

Cassie and Nate decided not to wait: Cassie brought Hannah to the emergency room at Central DuPage Hospital at about 6:15 p.m. while Nate stayed home with Maya, who was recovering from the flu.

X-rays soon showed Hannah had a fractured tibia and fibula (two lower leg bones that commonly break together). Because Cassie couldn't say for sure how Hannah got the fracture, the hospital staff called the DCFS. Only later did the family learn from two pediatric orthopedics and medical literature that the sort of injury Hannah had is considered to have "low" suspicion for abuse and it is hardly uncommon for parents to witness the incident that caused the fracture(s) to occur.

Unfortunately the x-ray findings, which naturally concerned the parents, marked just the beginning of the family's nightmare. Without even interviewing Nate, or talking to the hospital's own child abuse pediatrician, and without Hannah being seen by a single orthopedist (for whom injuries like Hannah's are fairly routine), DCFS decided to take both children into State protective custody. The investigator went to the S.'s home and made Nate wake Maya, only to remove her from the home and place her and Hannah with a relative as their temporary foster parent. It was the first time either child had slept away from their parents.

The next day — still without talking to the hospital's child abuse pediatrician, the family pediatrician, other the family members or friends, or Maya's teachers — DCFS filed a petition to take custody of both children from the S.'s in the Juvenile Court of Kane County. Based on hearsay representations concerning the emergency room doctor's opinion, the judge ratified the rushed decision that DCFS had made without talking to any doctors who had relevant expertise in toddler tibia/fibula fractures.

 The Family Defense Center stepped into the case six weeks later, with a trial date then set for June 2. Aggressively fighting for the family, Center Executive Director Diane Redleaf argued for dismissal of the petition against the family. It was the first time, according to Kane County Judge Parkhurst, that such a motion had been filed in that courtroom for parents. The Judge granted the motion to dismiss, but kept the children away from their parents while the State had to re-file an amended petition that set out facts supporting the conclusion that Hannah was abused.

Read the rest of the story here.

Thanks to the intervention of the Center, the parents were able to regain custody earlier this month after the state admitted it had no case. This is only the second time in the Center's history that the government has made such a concession during a legal dispute. 

It took even more legal work to get the parents removed from the child abuse registry. Removal does not happen automatically even after a case is dropped or charges cleared.

Redleaf, the Center's executive director, told me that Illinois law may soon become even more hostile to innocent parents:

"At the same time as justice was done in their case after 15 long weeks, the State of Illinois is proposing new appeal rules that will make it harder for people in their position to get a timely review of the merits of the allegations against wrongly accused parents."

You can donate to the Center here.