Parents are asking the Texas Legislature to enshrine into law their right to seek a second opinion in cases where a child abuse pediatrician—“doctors with special training, experience, and skills in evaluating children who may be victims of some type of abuse or neglect”—alleges the parents are abusing their children.
House Bill 3820 by State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R–Fort Worth) would recognize a parent’s right to request a second opinion from another physician if a doctor believes their child is the victim of abuse.
The bill would add to current law the requirement that physicians called to investigate such cases must be specialists in “medical conditions that mimic child maltreatment or increase the risk of misdiagnosis of child maltreatment.”
“HB 3820 seeks to protect innocent families who may face child abuse allegations due to unexplained injuries such [as] a fracture,” Krista McIntire, a consultant on CPS cases, told Texas Scorecard. “Currently, a thorough and diligent differential diagnosis is not being sought out, leaving parents subject to one opinion from a child abuse pediatrician, known as a CAP doctor.”
“House Bill 3820 prevents wrongful separation of families based on misdiagnoses of abuse or neglect by medical professionals,” added Andrew Brown, director of the Center for Families and Children at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “This legislation requires DFPS [Department of Family and Protective Services] to obtain a second opinion from physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating certain underlying health conditions that are frequently misdiagnosed as resulting from abuse or neglect before removing a child into foster care.”
At Tuesday’s hearing of the bill in the Texas House Human Services Committee, parents came and pled with legislators to vote for HB 3820.
One parent, Mrs. Butler, shared the story of when it was alleged her son was abused.
“His father was taking him outside, he was holding him, and he dropped him. It’s embarrassing,” she said. “We’ve always been honest about that.”
“We called 911, and we took our baby to a hospital, in which we found out he suffered a skull fracture,” Butler told the committee. She went on to say the hospital told her that her son’s fractures were old, not new. “They opened up a CPS case against us,” she said. “My husband was charged with injury to a child.”
Then, the Butlers’ son was taken by CPS.
“[The] judge would tell us it didn’t matter what we said, he’d only listen to the child abuse doctors,” she said.
“Did anyone consult with your pediatrician?” State Rep. Candy Noble (R–Lucas) asked. “From my understanding, they only took records from him,” Butler replied. In reply to State Rep. Lacey Hull (R–Houston), Butler said she had trouble getting her child’s medical records and had to get a judge involved.
The ordeal ended after almost two years, and the Butlers’ son was returned home.
Andrew Huber, Bridgette May, and Reina Tyson shared their own troubling stories.
“In August 2012, after hearing a ‘pop’ during a diaper change, I took my daughter [to the hospital],” Andrew Huber said. “I was barred from having any further contact with my daughter.”
A single doctor alleged child abuse, and the infant was separated from her family for nine months.
“For our family, this ordeal cost us over $50,000 in medical and legal expenses all because one doctor said so,” he continued. “I felt insulted that the local police had their guns ready to arrest me in front of my wife and daughter.”
As it turned out, Huber’s daughter had a medical condition and was not a victim of child abuse.
Checks and balances ensure that traumatic events like ours don’t happen to other families.
Bridgette May’s troubles began after her 10-month-old daughter rolled off the changing table. When May brought her baby to be checked by medical professionals, only the right arm was evaluated, and another injury was missed.
“I trusted them as experts and had no idea it could injure both sides,” May said. “The medical records were twisted until the findings were the … pressure resulted from slamming her down on her butt.” May said other doctors weren’t consulted.
“They skewed it and skewed it until it said ‘compression fracture,'” she continued. “It’s all because of an all-too-powerful child abuse doctor.”
In her testimony, Reina Tyson said, “We were falsely accused of child abuse in 2010. It wasn’t until 2016-2017 … that we found out our case wasn’t closed yet.”
Often in these cases, the child abuse pediatrician is the only one bearing any weight … even when we had four expert witnesses.
Following the hearing, HB 3820 was left pending in committee.
“Second opinions are standard of care throughout the practice of medicine,” Brown told Texas Scorecard. “Separating children from their families is one of the most devastating actions government can take against the people. Requiring second opinions in these cases is a commonsense solution to prevent harm to innocent children and families.”