It’s a parent’s worst nightmare—the littlest one has just taken a tumble down the stairs. And now you have to decide: Do you traumatize her with an unnecessary trip to the ER? Or do you stay home and risk your child’s health if she really is injured more than you can see?
That was the dilemma facing one West Coast couple a few weeks ago, and now they’re on the child abuse registry—for doing nothing wrong.
Here’s their story.
Doreen (all names changed to protect the family’s privacy) set the baby down for only a moment so she could wash out the baby’s bottle. She knew the child had learned to scoot, but her baby had never scooted away from a parent before. This time, though, the child found the top of the stairs and tumbled down.
Mom was there in a flash to soothe and check over her daughter, and in less than 30 seconds, the child was settled and quiet. Doreen could find no signs of injury, but she watched her baby closely for the rest of the day.
It’s a hard call to make when the child is too young to tell you where—or even if—they hurt. So it’s our job as parents to weigh the available data and try to make the right choice.
And in this instance, Doreen made the right call. The child was fine.
But she experienced a moment of doubt later that night, when the baby was fussy and seemed unable to settle. Remembering the tumble, Doreen did what any concerned parent might do: she called the local nurse assistance line for an opinion. Could this fussiness be from the fall? Perhaps it was time to visit the ER.
The nurse on the hotline thought so, and recommended Doreen get the child examined. So mom hung up—but before she could even prepare to take the baby to the emergency room, the little one passed gas loudly and settled right down for sleep.
That’s when Doreen remembered that the tumble down the stairs wasn’t the only new experience the baby had had that day. The child had also eaten chickpeas and cauliflower for the first time.
The baby wasn’t fussing from any injuries; rather, she was fussing due to gas from the new and unfamiliar food.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Doreen recognized that a trip to the ER was unnecessary and settled down to sleep.
The System Never Rests
But the nurse from the hotline wasn’t sleeping. She followed up with the hospital, and when she found that the parents had never brought the baby in, she called Child Protective Services (CPS) and reported Doreen for neglect.
The next afternoon, CPS came to the home to investigate and urged Doreen to take the baby to the doctor.
Within two hours of the visit from CPS, their local pediatrician gave the baby a clean bill of health—barely 24 hours after the frightening fall.
The family had weathered the trauma of an unwarranted visit from CPS. The child was healthy and the parents were right, not neglectful. What more could possibly need to happen?
But instead of letting the family move on, the investigator added Doreen’s name to the child abuse and neglect registry for not taking the baby to the emergency room as the nurse advised.
You read that right. Doreen’s name was added to a list meant for abusers because she made a parenting decision just like the thousands of parenting decisions that moms and dads make every day. And not just any decision, but a decision that was deemed correct by the doctor who examined the child.
“The System” is turning parenting into a no-win situation for all of us.
If you take your child in for medical care the child doesn’t need, a child abuse pediatrician can report you for “medical child abuse.” You and I have seen far too many cases like that. But if you don’t take your child in for medical care when your child doesn’t need it, suddenly you are “neglectful.”
Doreen and Cliff now know that first hand.
There’s Still Hope
But that is not the end of the story.
Doreen and Cliff contacted Parental Rights Foundation President Jim Mason to get her name off the registry, and he has agreed to take their case.
What’s more, it is a very strong case.
Nationally, close to 80 percent of these abuse registry cases are reversed on appeal. Well, it’s called an “appeal,” but in reality it is almost always the first time the case is in front of a magistrate or judge, as it will be for Doreen’s.
She wasn’t given the opportunity to stop her name from being placed on the registry, but she’s fighting to have it removed, and we’re proud to stand with her in that fight.
No parents should have their names put on a blacklist-style registry when they have done nothing wrong. No name should go on such a list before the accused has a chance first to face the accuser (that is, the investigator who chooses to put them on the list) and the charges filed.
And no one should be held responsible for “neglect” over the choice to not seek medical care that, by every indication (and by ultimate vindication), the child did not need.
This problem is not new to the Parental Rights Foundation. More than a year ago, we began a process that will get reform legislation in front of state lawmakers from all over the country, and we’ll have our chance to present our model to them later this month.
If lawmakers will take our model back to their states and pass it into law, a judge will have to examine the evidence and conclude that the parent was likely abusive or negligent before their name can be added to the registry. (In Colorado, that legislative effort is already underway.)
That means stories like Doreen’s, where there is no indication of abuse or neglect, will become a thing of the past.
What Can You Do?
This reform should be common sense, but it isn’t. That’s why I’m writing to you today.
We’re proud to fight for Doreen’s rights, but we can only do it with your support. Thanks to the great and ongoing generosity of our donors, we are able to make these great steps in the fight for parents’ rights. But we can only take those steps because of partners like you.
When Doreen’s case is closed, we’ll hopefully be rejoicing over justice served. But there are still thousands upon thousands of parents whose rights are being violated. They need the protection our proposed reforms will bring.
We cannot stop fighting now, and we don’t plan to.
Will you join us in keeping the fight strong by giving your best gift of $20, $50, or even $100 today? Parents like Doreen—parents like you and me—are depending on this fight to continue.
P.S. Doreen and the many innocent parents who are also on a registry deserve the chance to have justice done and their stories heard. And parents like you and me have the right to make a decision about our children’s health without the system punishing us for it, even when we’re right. Will you support parents and their children today by making your best gift to the Parental Rights Foundation?