Thursday, December 8, 2011

Child abuse in America: True stories of false reports

From the Family Defense Center in Chicago, a reminder of just how much harm can be done by false allegations of child abuse.  Sixteen specific cases, some of them called in by “mandated reporters.”  They are a reminder of the enormous harm that comes from urging – or even requiring - anyone and everyone to report anything and everything.

Here are four of the cases.  As you read them consider not only the harm to the families falsely accused but also the fact that all the time, money and effort spent on these cases was stolen from finding children in real danger:

● A day care teacher followed the practice of other teachers in the center of giving back rubs to help the children fall asleep. The mother of a four-year-old told the day care center director that her daughter told her that the teacher had “touched” her daughter’s booty. The teacher was fired and forced out of his home for 11 months. A hearing eventually found the investigation to be “sloppy at best” for failing to interview other teachers to determine that abuse could not have occurred in the open classroom with 16 children and for failing to discover that the touching was a back rub.

● A school nurse called the Hotline on a mother because the 10-year-old child reported that she was required to clean up after the family cat and was being forced to go into a dark basement that was locked. During the investigation, the child protection investigator failed to observe that the basement the child referred to was where the cat’s food and litter box were kept, and that there were no locks on its doors. The indicated finding was dropped after the mother filed her appeal and retained legal counsel.

 ● A toddler who was learning to walk fell and was then found to have a wrist fracture. An emergency room doctor, without consulting any orthopedist, made a Hotline call. Later, several orthopedists opined that abuse was an implausible explanation because the only way to the wrist fracture could have occurred was through a commonplace fall. The child was taken from both parents involuntarily and placed in temporary custody of DCFS. After a nearly four-month separation, the State’s Attorney voluntarily dismissed the case after child abuse experts agreed with the orthopedists that abuse was not a plausible explanation for the fracture.

● A mother went to the police after her ex-boyfriend made a verbal threat while the mother was holding their 9-month-old daughter. The police called the Hotline and though the mother obtained an order of protection against her ex-boyfriend and kicked him out of her home, DCFS indicated a finding of neglect against the mother. When the ex-boyfriend later came to the home intimidating the mother, she was scared to call the police for fear that she would again be reported to DCFS.  After a full hearing, the indicated finding against the mother was reversed.

The full list of sixteen cases is on the Family Defense Center website here. FDC also has a complete analysis of one of the bills introduced in Congress to make everyone a "mandated reporter."