Free-Range Kids

'Taking Our Baby to the Hospital Was the Single Most Harmful Decision We Made'

Child services falsely labeled this dad an abuser and took his adopted newborn.


Last May, John Cox was worried he had accidentally hurt his newly adopted infant by rolling into her when they both dozed off. Erring on the side of caution, he brought her to Children's Wisconsin hospital—where he worked, coincidentally, as a pediatric emergency doctor—just to make absolutely sure she was fine. It turned out she had suffered a minor fracture that is common in babies and heals on its own.

Two weeks later, child protective services declared him a child abuser and took the baby from him and his wife.

The child has been in foster care now for eight months. She is only nine months old.

What happened? According to a remarkable investigative story by NBC's Mike Hixenbaugh, it's possible for the authorities to interpret almost any bump or bruise as evidence of evil intent:

What followed, according to more than 15 medical experts who later reviewed Cox's case, was a series of medical mistakes and misstatements by hospital staff members that has devastated Cox's family and derailed his career. A nurse practitioner on the hospital's child abuse team confused the baby's birthmarks for bruises, according to seven dermatologists who have reviewed the case. A child abuse pediatrician misinterpreted a crucial blood test, four hematologists later said. Then, two weeks after the incident, armed with those disputed medical reports, Child Protective Services took the child.

Those misjudgments—and a deep suspicion of all parents with injured kids—led to the child being taken.

"In hindsight," Cox said in a recent interview, "taking her to our own hospital was the single most harmful decision that we made for our baby."

Children's Wisconsin, like many hospitals, has bought into the theory of "sentinel injuries"—the idea that minor bruises can be warning signs of future abuse, so each bruise must be treated as suspicious. But as Hixenbaugh writes:

Several emergency room doctors described an "out of control" child abuse team that is too quick to report minor injuries to authorities and that is too closely aligned with state child welfare investigators. …

Five doctors told a reporter they're even afraid to bring their own children to their hospital after accidental injuries, fearing that a misdiagnosis or miscommunication might lead Child Protective Services to break their family apart.

"This is a disease in our hospital," one physician said. "The way John's case has been mishandled has opened all of our eyes to how big the problem is."

In part, the problem can be traced to the advent of the child abuse pediatrician, who claims to be able to tell adult-inflicted injuries from innocent ones.

"Child abuse pediatricians very often operate under secret contracts with police, child protection, and prosecution offices—never disclosed to the parents bringing their children in for emergency treatment," Diane Redleaf, the legal consultant at Let Grow, tells Reason. "These individuals have been billed as having special superhuman powers to tell abuse from accidents and rare diseases, superior to the powers of other doctors because they 'know child abuse when they see it.'"

Added NBC, which joined The Houston Chronicle in an investigation of this new pediatric specialty:

Some of the doctors have at times overstated the certainty of their conclusions, the investigation found. Child welfare agencies and law enforcement officials often rely on their reports as the sole basis for removing children and filing criminal charges, sometimes in spite of contradictory opinions from other medical specialists.

In Cox's case, the family could afford to get outside doctors to review the records, and many were shaken by what they saw. They pointed out not just several stone-cold mistakes, but how eager the authorities seemed to be to find abuse.

A police detective who grilled both Cox and his wife—Sadie Dobrozsi, also a pediatric doctor—said he didn't understand how the hospital could have concluded they did something wrong. That didn't stop child protective services, though: The authorities insisted on a safety plan for the baby, involving supervised visits monitored by grandparents.

Eventually, child services removed the baby from the home, anyway:

As the caseworker was leaving with the child, Dobrozsi asked what was making them so certain that she and her husband were abusive? The caseworker mentioned a new bruise on the baby's foot.

Mom was completely baffled. She had no idea where that bruise came from, until she obtained her baby's medical records. It turned out the hospital itself had pricked the child's heel for a blood test. The mom didn't know this because she had not been allowed in the room when it happened.

At this point, the baby is still in foster care. The couple's other two kids are terrified that they may be taken, too. (One keeps his favorite toys in a backpack in case he's suddenly taken away). Now the father faces a possible six years in jail on felony charges of child abuse.

The prosecutor is bolstering his case with a report prepared by a yet another child abuse pediatrician, this one in nearby Minnesota, whom he hired to look over the files. "In summary," this child abuse pediatrician wrote, "there is no explanation for [the baby's] injuries other than trauma."

And yet the trauma of separating an infant baby from her loving parents for months does not seem to concern the authorities.

NEXT: 40 Privacy Groups Ask Federal Oversight Agency To Push for Suspension of Federal Facial Recognition Technology

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  1. Well this is a welcome change from the way journalists usually treat accusations.

  2. Nine months? At this point, the case should be dismissed with prejudice. That’s unacceptably long.

  3. Needs the same accountability as all government fuckups: hold the damned perps accountable! If they think you are a criminal, they need to make that decision in the form of a bet: if they end up proved wrong, they are punished as you would have been pushed had you been found guilty.

    False accusation of murder, life without parole.

    False accusation for what could be twenty years in prison, you go to prison for twenty years.

    At the very least, this should be a jury option. If they think the accusations were groundless, careless, negligent, etc, the accuser suffers as the accused could have suffered.

    1. Or at least a monetary compensation (directly from the perpetrator, not the taxpayer). I agree though–the lack of skin in the game makes it very easy for these investigators to level false allegations.

      1. I would start with pure rebound — if your careless accusations could have resulted in twenty years in prison, that is your sentence. Then it’s up to your intended victim to cut you some slack. Start negotiating, bub.

        It would make a huge difference in how politely these clowns treated their victims. I would be a lot more inclined to forgive and forget someone who had been polite as fuck and cut me some slack. Consider all those press conferences and perp walks — so much for innocent until proven guilty!

      2. Oh, they have skin in the game. Their very livelihoods depend upon everyone being labeled child abusers. Err on the side of the parents too often, and they’ll find themselves out of a job. This is true of all bureaucracies, though.

    2. 1. CPS footprint grew under Obama to become an agency that needed more statistics to justify its size. Without seizures of children they do not remain large and would face layoffs. (Simple Truth).
      2. Virtually no CPS agents who seize children have any children of their own – so they dont identify with either parents or children – they just take them for any reason that can be concocted.
      3. The greatest problem is the lack of vetting in the temporary shelter the child is sent to – that is where the most serious problem occur as those running the homes take as many children as possible increasing the child’s risk of actual abuse. Those involved in temporary care have no interest nor investment in the ward of the state.

  4. From working in health care [for longer than I care to admit] I can tell you that medical professionals, especially physicians, are often held to a very different [and much higher] standard than other persons. This is a good example of a “snowball” effect whereby specious “experts” kept confirming one another’s bias, with a foregone conclusion that they couldn’t let this evil doctor get away with this. The prosecution has committed itself to a point of no return; if they were to drop the charges now they’d end up with too much shit on their faces.

    1. The purpose of the justice system is not justice.

      1. Keep in mind it is actually and accurately named the CRIMINAL justice system.

    2. I agree. I think it is a combination of factors:
      1) The punishment vs reward- the reward for “saving a child from abuse” is lots of public acclaim, while the punishment for not doing so can be brutal (loss of licensure, possibly even criminal negligence). Compare that to the opposite: the reward for NOT taking a baby from a safe house is NONE AT ALL. The punishment for taking a baby from a safe house is essentially NONE AT ALL. So by doing nothing it is all risk/no reward.
      2) While I don’t think the majority are this way, there are enough of them (hence the position of child abuse practitioner) that think that they are doing GOD’s justice by saving every child they can. And they just KNOW that if a child is injured it MUST be the parents’ fault.
      3) Finally, the banality of evil (or at least bureaucracy). Other healt care professionals don’t want to get involved. Why fight it? It isn’t my kid, and it is an awful lot of trouble to get involved. And after all CPS will get it right. They are professionals!

    3. they’d end up with too much shit on their faces.

      Nonsense. As others have pointed out, there are absolutely no consequences for government officials and employees who get these cases wrong. The worst that can happen is that the taxpayers will be on the hook for a settlement.

      1. Qualified immunity means never having to take responsibility for your actions.

  5. This country is fucked beyond redemption.

    Wish I hadn’t had kids — I hate that they get to inherit this mess.

    1. As someone who lost a kid to the state, please hug & kiss your kids and cherish every day with them. They do have a mess to deal with, but they have your wisdom to help guide them through it. I don’t get to do that for 6.5 more years.

  6. Am I the only one who cannot find the part of the story where the lying weasels got arrested, tried, convicted, stripped of all medical credentials, and are now in jail?

    1. Shit, never mind that the accusers aren’t being punished, the baby is still in foster care FFS. The fucking state can take a child away from with not even a preponderance of evidence standard. But to get the child back, the parents have to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they didn’t intentionally (or through careless disregard) hurt the child. That is some fucked up shit for a supposedly free society.

      1. The United (police) States of America. These people are pure evil. In an earlier generation they’d be shoving undesirables into gas ovens if it advanced their careers.

    2. That may never happen, and this lesson may never be learned. Here’s the same thing from 1990, on steroids.

      Social worker takes a seminar in child sexual abuse. Social worker sees a kid from a local daycare. Decides kid has been abused.

      Begins “therapy” visits with kids from daycare. In therapy she presses preschoolers to “stop lying” and tell the truth. They spin tails of being raped with butcher knives, ritual animal sacrifice, naked teachers having sex in front of them…. all with no physical evidence whatsoever.

      Half the students go to her. Every single one turns out to have been the victim of sexual abuse. Half go to their family pediatrician or psychologist. None have been abused.

      The prosecutor who gets the case knows exactly what to do. He charges the owner and seeks life without parole. In order to secure that conviction, he goes after a newly married 19 year old worker – pushing for life in prison for her as well, but offering time served if she will testify against the owner.

      Chick turns out to be a badass American hero. She tells him to pound sand. Gets life in prison for her trouble. Convicted of having sex with the owner in a storefront window on main street during the lunch hour. Let that one sink in. The jury said they didn’t believe any of the charges, but felt they needed to convict to protect the children.

      So we have plenty of evidence as to how this plays out. Nobody suffers for wrongly accusing people of child abuse. It just doesn’t happen.

      1. “The prosecutor who gets the case knows exactly what to do. [Sh]e charges the owner and seeks life without parole.”

        Who knows, that prosecutor may even end up as Attorney General. How else would they then be able to kill a bunch of children in an ill-conceived raid on a bunch of weirdos living in a compound or remove a child from loving family members at gunpoint on Easter so she can send that child to a gulag-state?

  7. For government bureaucrats, it’s cover your ass against false negatives, no accountably for false positives and justifying your existence by continually finding “evildoers” to victimize.

  8. It’s better if a hundred innocent people are accused than if one innocent person goes free.

  9. A pediatric doctor should know better than to sleep with a baby.

    1. It appears a pediatric doctor should know better than to have a baby.

  10. As in this case child welfare is more interested in going for the lowest hanging fruit, it is much less work. There more than enough cases of true child neglect and abuse so that they don’t have to pick on people like this doctor. But then the doctor should have know if the child was hurt enough to be taken to the hospital.

  11. Well, it’s Wisconsin. If you’re familiar with DeShaney v Winnebago County, you know they’re just as capable of going in the other direction.

  12. And these clowns lament the public’s distrust of expertise.

  13. I am making a good MONEY (500$ to 700$ / hr )online on my Ipad .Do not go to office.I do not claim to be others,I yoy will call yourself after doing this JOB,It’s a REAL job.Will be very lucky to refer to this …. Read more  

    1. Sure you are/it is.

  14. State agencies usually hire only leftists, who by nature are rigid and closed minded persons clinging to their political lines.

  15. Wonder if a “Child abuse pediatrician” gets paid more than a regular one, based on their greater “expertise”? If so, that couldn’t be why they’re so quick to defend others of their field, could it?

  16. The core problem here is the entire idea that it is the government’s business to detect and prevent child abuse. The result is a hoard of busybodies poking their collective nose where they have no business, and all too often mistaking fads for methodology.

    When a family abuses a child that is a tragedy. When the government, acting in my name (as a sovereign citizen), destroys a family based on power tripping, hysteria, and pop-psyche nonsense, that is an OUTRAGE.

    Child Protection Services must be abolished.

    1. I agree. You know why? Abuse is ALREADY A CRIME. If a parent beats their kid? Well, a beating is assault. Charge the parent with assault. Let the police and criminal courts handle it. Kid can stay with relatives. If there are, for some insane reason, zero relatives, a church or caring family would happily take them in. We in no way need an entire secretive, corrupt, bloated government agency dedicated to filling quotas to get those precious matching federal funds to keep a bunch of overpaid, incompetent government workers fed.

  17. There is no accountability in family court and the family law complex where it is really not about facts, but about feelings.

    1. It’s not about feelings, it’s about money, and which parent has more of it (often the dad, but not always). The documentary “Divorce Corp.” does a great job outlying how incredibly corrupt it is.

  18. Don’t forget there are no penalties for knowingly false accusations of child abuse.
    The angry divorcing wives ALL make these accusations as a routine negotiation strategy in the settlement.
    The charges disappear when the father accedes to paying alimony.

    1. There are no penalties for false accusations of anything – meaning, not only child abuse but rape in college, etc. And the worst part? Is often times, they work.

  19. The fact that the baby is adopted changes things. Agencies are already involved. Adopters have to jump through hoops that natural parents don’t have to.

    1. No, it doesn’t change things. Go look at NBC’s investigation that’s linked in the article.

  20. I have been through this, not exactly the same situation, but similar. These are TERRIFYING TIMES FOR PARENTS. I know Reason and Lenore have been talking about these stories for years (often the only place that does), and I applaud NBC’s recent investigation, but still I fear many parents are unaware of how much their rights to the sovereignty of their own children and families they are losing every single day to an overgrown totalitarian state. And when celebrities like Jessica Biel try to stand up for parents’ rights over vaccine madness they are slandered, torn apart and ridiculed to the farthest corners of society. Dark, dark, dark times are coming for us all.

  21. How many people won’t bring kids to the hospital as a result, even when kids need medical care? How many needless complications will _that_ cause?

    1. If that fear stops parents from bringing kids to emergency rooms for minor injuries, that could be a good thing, but, yes, if parents avoid the hospital in close call situations, that could result in timely care being avoided.

  22. God damn every one of these virtue-signaling social justice warrior pieces of shit.

  23. Not certain about Wisconsin, but the states I know about have a sweetheart deal as far as the foster care system goes. For every new “customer” that gets placed into that system the COUNTY receives an YUGE monthly stipend from the Feds for that child as long as they are IN the system. Thousands per month, in the two states I know about. Out of that HUGE check, the county pays a small pittance (maybe $500 or so) monthly to the foster home. Thus the foster care system is a big money=tit for the county agency that controls it. Ya think getting a few $G’s per month above admin and payout costs isn’t a big driver?
    As ever, find the money pathway and follow it. THAT racket is what drives the greater part of “placements” in foster care systems. Its a big money maker for the county, and a BIG loss for FedGov. Read: WE the PEOPLE. Not even to consider the insane amounts of bux spent in the court systems, lawyers, social “workers” (sort of like street “workers” in many ways) as well as the foster care raciet er, squeeze me, system. End the Gravy Train, and this abuse of honest and well intentioned parents will disappear. Those spcial “abuse docs” are almost certainly sucking from the green tit of the county governments driving this racket.

    1. We nee to abolish the foster care system and go back to running orphanages for abused or neglected children. The state-run orphanages were far more humane and successful at child-rearing than the foster home system.

  24. The US Constitution REQUIRES a trial by jury. Why the hell are we missing the fundamentals and chasing red herrings all day?

    1. The Regulatory State has sidestepped our Constitutional rights in criminal matters by setting up a regime of rules and regulations that are enforced as “civil” infractions rather than criminal violations. Yes, we SHOULD have due process rights in “civil” regulatory actions that have the force and effect of criminal laws, but for now, we do not.

  25. Every time I hear a story like this it makes my blood boil… This case is an adopted kid, so I can almost understand being a little more chill… But with your biological children I don’t understand why more people don’t go postal and beat the crap out of (or worse) the monsters that did this shit to them. If that happened more often maybe the CPS workers would start taking their job a little more seriously.

    On the flip side the thing that has always blown my mind is the number of kids I knew growing up that DID have abusive parents, yet they still lived with them! This kind of shit was already happening when I was growing up, yet I knew kids whose parents legit beat them now and again, and nothing ever happened. How can they be so sensitive as to “catch” somebody like this who did nothing, yet let real abuse get by them all the time. It’s madness.

  26. thanks a lot, i shard this in my safety blog:בלוג

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