Free-Range Kids

Mom Ignores Doctor When Her Sick 2-Year-Old Starts Feeling Better, Child Services Send a SWAT Team

"What about the parents' rights to decide what's best for their child?"


Screenshot via security footage

Chandler, Arizona, cops broke through the door of a family's home in the middle of the night, stormed in, pointed their guns, handcuffed the father, and watched as the state's Department of Child Safety (DCS) took custody of the parents' three kids—all because mom had decided her toddler's fever was not serious enough to merit a trip to the hospital.

It was dinnertime on February 25 when the pregnant mother took her 2-year-old to the doctor with a fever of over 100. The doctor told her to take him to the emergency room, fearing that because the boy was unvaccinated, perhaps he had meningitis—a life-threatening disease.

The doctor called the hospital to alert them. But by the time the mother and child left his office, the boy was "laughing and playing with his siblings," according to this excellent piece by Dianna M. Nanez in The Arizona Republic. Mom took his temperature again, and it was almost normal. So instead of going to the emergency room, the family went home. The mom called the doctor to say her boy's fever had broken and she wasn't going to the emergency room. The doctor told her she should go anyway, so she agreed she would—but then she didn't.

That's when the madness began.

The hospital called the doctor to tell him the toddler hadn't arrived. The doctor called DCS. And DCS requested the cops check on the family as a caseworker headed over.

And then, according to The Arizona Republic:

It was about 10:30 p.m. when two police officers knocked on the family's door. The officers heard someone coughing.

Officer Tyler Cascio wrote in a police report that he knocked on the door several times but no one answered.

A neighbor approached the officers and police explained the situation. The woman said she knew her neighbor and that "she was a good mother." At the request of officers, the neighbor called the mother and said police wanted to speak with her.

The DCS caseworker arrived and updated police on the toddler's fever and the mother choosing not to take her child to the hospital. The officer called the family's doctor, who repeated her recommendation that the mother take the child to the hospital. …

At about 11:30 p.m., the caseworker informed officers that DCS planned to obtain a "temporary custody notice" from a judge to remove the child for emergency medical aid.

Just after midnight the caseworker got that notice, which is required by law. Matters subsequently escalated:

Cascio wrote that officers consulted with the police criminal investigations bureau and SWAT.

"Based upon the court order, the intent of DCS to serve the order, and exigency to ensure the health and welfare of the child, the decision was made to force entry to the home if the parents refused to respond to verbal requests," according to police records. Police knocked, saying they had a court order and would force entry if needed, according to police records.

And force they did:

It was after 1 a.m. when officers kicked down the family's door. One officer carried a shield, while another was described as having "lethal coverage." Officers pointing guns yelled, "Chandler Police Department," and entered the house.

The rest of the story is equally nuts. The kids were all placed in separate foster homes. When the case got to juvenile court 10 days later, DCS requested it be closed to the public. The judge refused.

But then it seemed as if DCS decided to make everything harder for the parents, because now the press was interested, as was the Arizona DCS Oversight Group, a local organization that fights for families' rights, and a state legislator, Rep. Kelly Townsend (R–Mesa), who had helped write the law requiring DCS to get a warrant before removing a child. Townsend has been lobbing zingers like, "What about the parents' rights to decide what's best for their child? Parents felt the child was fine. Next thing we know, the Gestapo is at their door."

In court, DCS tried to convince the judge, Jennifer Green, to bar the press from covering the dispute. A lawyer for the agency even claimed that the parents had gone against the best interests of the children by involving the media. Green rejected this argument, saying, "In Arizona we like our courts to be open."

However, the judge ultimately sided with DCS, ruling that the children's removal was lawful and telling the parents "to remember that the state had them on a family-reunification plan and wants them to regain custody of their children."

The children's grandparents are undergoing a DCS review, and hope to be permitted to temporarily shelter the kids once that's approved. But there's no telling how long it will be before the kids can just go home to mom and dad.