Free-Range Kids

When Desperate Parents Are Wrongly Accused of Abusing Their Very Sick Kids

Imaginary fears

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Sick kid
Dreamstime

If you have a child who is very sick, you will move heaven and earth to get that kid care. Unfortunately, there's a possibility that this assiduousness will trigger suspicions of abuse. In a horrifying, supremely well-sourced op-ed in The New York Times, the mom of a girl who suffered from inexplicable headaches, nausea, falls, and pain, explains how other people in her situation have lost their kids to child protective service agents who imagined abuse where none exists (links added):

Compounding the problems with the overly broad definition of medical child abuse is the considerable misinformation spread by its proponents. In 2013, a governor's task force in Michigan stated that "many cases of Medical Child Abuse go undetected because caregivers are skilled at deceiving the medical community." No hard evidence, however, suggests that such parents are anything but rare. Medical child abuse is far more likely overcharged than undercharged.

The task force identified these warning signs of medical child abuse: a "highly attentive parent" who is "unusually reluctant to leave his/her child's side"; a parent who "demands second and third opinions"; a parent who "is not relieved or reassured when presented with negative test results and resists having the child discharged from the hospital"; and a parent who has "unusually detailed medical knowledge." These warning signs accurately describe many, if not most, loving parents of medically fragile children.

In its zealotry, the medical child abuse movement resembles two other panics from the recent past: the sex-abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s and, more recently, the panic over shaken-baby syndrome. In both panics, experts saw foul play where none existed, government officials took their views at face value, and people were wrongly convicted and imprisoned, their lives ruined. Medical child abuse is causing similar harm.

The author of this piece, Maxine Eichner, a professor of law at the University of North Carolina, recounts possibly the most outrageous case of government hysteria and cruelty regarding a very sick child:

…Justina Pelletier [was] a teenager who was being treated for mitochondrial disease, or "mito," a rare metabolic disorder that interferes with energy production. On the advice of a metabolic geneticist at Tufts Medical Center who was treating her, she was admitted in 2013 to Boston Children's Hospital, so that she could see her longtime gastroenterologist, who had recently moved there. Without consulting the girl's doctor at Tufts, Boston Children's concluded that the girl's problem was not mito, but largely psychiatric, according to The Boston Globe.

When her parents disagreed and sought to transfer her back to Tufts, Boston Children's called child protection, asserting that the parents were harmfully interfering in her care. Although the Tufts geneticist supported the mito diagnosis, a juvenile court judge deferred to Boston Children's assessment, and Justina's parents lost custody. After more than 16 months in state custody, much of it spent in a locked psychiatric ward, Justina was finally returned to her parents — still in a wheelchair, still sick.

What does this have to do with Free-Range Kids? Everything. The whole premise of this movement is that our children are not in constant danger—not from kidnapping, not from un-fingerprinted school volunteers on a field trip, not from crayons (this week's New Fear), and not from parents at their wits' end.

Eichner discusses Munchausen syndrome by proxy, whereby some parents may exaggerate or even create their child's illness to get attention. But she puts it in perspective: It is exceedingly rare. We talk about it (and see it on TV) for the same reason we talk about Satanic child abusers: it is that outrageous. But being outrageous doesn't make it common. It is certainly far less common than frantic parents trying to help children with difficult-to-diagnose illnesses.

As a society, we sometimes seem determined to imagine anyone having anything to do with kids—including their own parents—as monsters. This is what happened to the Meitivs in Maryland: The parenting decisions they made out of love and rationality were interpreted as harmful. The real monsters today are the ones who see "child abuse" even when staring at kind, compassionate adults.

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  1. The task force identified these warning signs of medical child abuse: a “highly attentive parent” who is “unusually reluctant to leave his/her child’s side”; a parent who “demands second and third opinions”; a parent who “is not relieved or reassured when presented with negative test results and resists having the child discharged from the hospital”; and a parent who has “unusually detailed medical knowledge.”

    Listen, parents, if you want to pull that shit, get your own fucking cartel.

  2. a parent who “demands second and third opinions”;

    But… doctors are experts. How could the experts be wrong? They’re doctors. QED.

    (Not to suggest alternative medicine quackery is anything but wishful thinking and charlatanism.)

    1. “But… doctors are experts. How could the experts be wrong? They’re doctors. QED.”

      It’s not that second opinions will be wrong – it has nothing to do with achieving anyone’s health – it’s that the human ranchers have it in their interest to support each other’s control of their respective cattle.

      Second opinions demonstrate the *fallibility* of the “experts”, bringing into question the supposed “justification” for their power over the cattle, and potentially allowing the cattle to bring suit against their human ranchers in general court, pitting one rancher’s “expert” opinion against the other’s.

      That’s bad for the ranching business. Can’t have that.

    2. I thought it was considered smart, if not essentia,l to get second or third opinions.

  3. The task force identified these warning signs of medical child abuse: a “highly attentive parent” who is “unusually reluctant to leave his/her child’s side”; a parent who “demands second and third opinions”; a parent who “is not relieved or reassured when presented with negative test results and resists having the child discharged from the hospital”; and a parent who has “unusually detailed medical knowledge.” These warning signs accurately describe many, if not most, loving parents of medically fragile children.

    So the warning signs describe the behavior of any normal parent with a sick kid. This is straight out of Kafka.

    “We are taking your child because you are a neglectful and abusive parent”.

    “But my child is sick and I have spent every waking hour and effort by his side trying to help him get better, how is that neglectful”.

    “Exactly, your commitment to your child is just how you hide your neglect”.

    Meanwhile, every year there are at least two or three cases where people starve their kids to death, chain them in basements or commit any number of utterly unspeakable crimes right under the noses of CPS. But CPS is all about taking the children from parents who appear too attentive to their sick kids.

    1. It’s important not to equate these “medical abuse” stories with claims of neglect. They are totally separate. They don’t allege neglect at all; quite the opposite.

      1. Forgive my sloppy language. The larger point however still stands. They are taking what is normal behavior and considering it evidence of abuse. Not to be all judgy or anything but that is the kind of thing lunatics do.

        1. Lunatics and control freaks.

          I find it very telling that all the “abuse” reports are initiated by doctors. They don’t like to be questioned.

    2. “. But CPS is all about taking the children from parents who appear too attentive to their sick kids.”

      All bureaucracies are about punishing people who won’t meekly *submit* to the will of the “authorities”.

      1. They take kids from overly attentive and not attentive enough parents. And they are closing that already narrow gap quite nicely.

    3. My neighbor had a foster baby, 1 yo, who was removed from the home where the mothers boyfriend beat an older brother to death. Before the bf’s trial which probably would have given details about any role the mother played in the homicide ( she initially lied to cover her man, then admitted he beat the boy many times prior) CPS gave the baby back to the mom. The baby was in the ER for injuries 3 times before CPS put her back in foster care, but not with my neighbor, who wanted to adopt her. Last I heard she was in her third foster home. She would be about 4 years old now. Screw CPS. Then into the chipper.

  4. The lesson of this is that we need to get rid of CPS. The harm it does grossly outweighs any good it does.

  5. *fires up woodchipper*

  6. a parent who has “unusually detailed medical knowledge”

    Knowledge is not power.

    1. Oh, I fucked that up. I was so proud of myself.

      Lenore, thank you for putting a spotlight on these heinous people.

  7. Having been through multiple doctors and hospitals for my son trying to get an accurate diagnosis, this hits too close to home. At this point, I am confident I know more about his condition than the majority of pediatricians.

    I found that most doctors are just assembly line workers. Their indifference to the patient and suspicion of parents that took the time to do research was eye-opening.

    1. The practice of medicine, much of the time, is pushing the meds of the rep who just took you to lunch, and referring to the treatment playbook provided by your insurance company. At my last annual “physical” for my thyroid med (which I now wish I’d never started), my doctor was about to perform a procedure, made a reference to her computer, stratified by my insurance, and – NOPE – can’t do that, and I was done. Hopefully it wasn’t something important.

      1. Expert systems have a role to play in medicine, unfortunately they too often get used to funnel everyone into the same treatment path.

  8. An older couple AR my church adopted a kid from Honduras about a year ago. A few months after they brought him home he started having really bad stomach pains and other symptoms(I’m a little sketchy on the details). He’s had a liver transplant, which has resulted in a lot of painful complications, kidney dialysis etc. His new parents now take shifts working 2 or 3 days a week. Other than that they never leave his bedside, and you can imagine how much they’ve learned about livers and kidneys. I guess CPS would consider them criminals and assist.

  9. What does this have to do with Free-Range Kids? Everything. The whole premise of this movement…

    “Movement”? More like an occasional column, an obscure blog and a cable-TV reality show. Most parents never encounter the kinds of nightmare scenarios that Skenazy cherry picks in these little cautionary tales.

    1. Most people aren’t Tulpa, but Tulpa sure is a lot of people.

    2. WE MUST HAVE ORDER!

    3. So, sometimes it’s fine to not care “if it saves just one child”?

      1. I’ve had bowel movements with greater impact.

        1. That’s… clever?

        2. Sure, but WHERE were these bowel movements? That’s what we like to know around here. Are you a world traveling person who is full of shit, or just a local person who is full of shit?

          Oh, and pics, or it didn’t happen.

    4. I beg to differ. Besides, nothing short of outright abuse and neglect with carefully documented proof of harm should interfere with parents and their children, or their caregivers IMO, no matter how frequent.

  10. “The task force identified these warning signs of medical child abuse”

    If you look at all of those “warning signs”, they all boil down to questioning the values, value judgments, conclusions, and knowledge of the medical professionals involved.

    And transparently so.

    You WILL respect my AUTHORITAH!

    Or, you will be declared an “abusive” parent, and have your child taken from you.

    Unaccountable apparatchik bureaucracies empowered by government with legislative and police powers are the #1 threat to freedom in the developed world, and among those apparatchik bureaucracies, I’d rank the medical mafia as the most evil and damaging.

  11. So, clarify something for me. The parents asked that their child be sent back to the other hospital. Under the care of a doctor who supported a diagnosis. Wouldn’t that make the Dr. more liable for medical abuse than the parents?

  12. Hi Lenore, Kristin here. Keep up the good work! I’m still moving forward with mine. I’ll be in touch.

  13. Although the Tufts geneticist supported the mito diagnosis, a juvenile court judge deferred to Boston Children’s assessment, and Justina’s parents lost custody. After more than 16 months in state custody, much of it spent in a locked psychiatric ward, Justina was finally returned to her parents ? still in a wheelchair, still sick.

    Kidknapping: The crime of unlawfully seizing and carrying away a person by force or Fraud, or seizing and detaining a person against his or her will with an intent to carry that person away at a later time.

    I trust the judge, police, and CPS personnel involved will face charges as a result of their crime. It’s not as though the government is above the law that it monopolizes or anything…

  14. The mind set in child abuse cases of “in loco parentis,” the State as the Parent, runs from Washington, DC to nurses and physicians in hospitals. This It Takes A Village and arrogant position can cloud the judgment of the most competent professionals and mandated reporters as they turn a blind eye towards considering other alternative hypotheses. As an Expert, I’ve seen it first-hand in alleged child sex abuse cases, but also in Medical cases, too, such as alleged Shaken Baby Syndrome. In fact, I helped to win a case against CHOP in Pennsylvania about a decade ago that was a purported Shaken Baby Syndrome case. Dean Tong http://www.abuse-excuse.com

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