Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Physicians diagnosing what’s now known as “medical child abuse” are not required to assess the mental health of the parent or their intent. Instead, doctors must show only that a child received unnecessary or excessive medical care and that a caregiver instigated it. With this vastly widened net, critics say doctors have wrongly accused some mothers who expressed genuine concerns about their children’s health, leading to painful family separations and threats of criminal charges. Often, the doctors making these accusations are child abuse pediatricians, a small but growing medical subspecialty trained to assess suspicious injuries and report their findings to child welfare agencies. Only a small fraction of the cases handled by these doctors involve concerns of medical abuse. Texas Children’s handles about two dozen a year, according to one of its doctors, and one expert estimates about 1,600 mothers nationally are reported to authorities annually. As part of a broader investigation into the work of child abuse pediatricians in Texas, reporters for the Houston Chronicle and NBC News scrutinized seven cases of mothers from across the state who were accused of medical child abuse.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Rarely do I see such a hard-hitting, deeply probing  journalistic masterpiece. This collaboration meets all the tests. I look forward to the up-coming installments.  This article simply cannot be reduced in size. (Except for the few opening paragraphs I have provided for a 'taste.') I recommend reading it word by word.

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.


STORY: "A devastating analysis: Doctors trained to spot child abuse can save lives. But when they get it wrong, families are torn apart," by reporters Mike Hixenbaugh (NBC News) and Keri Blakinger (Houston Chronicle), published by NBC News on Sept. 19, 2019. This article, first in a series was published in partnership with the Houston Chronicle. Mike Hixenbaugh is a national investigative reporter for NBC News, based in Houston.  Keri Blakinger is a Houston Chronicle reporter specializing in criminal justice.

SUB-HEADING:  "Doctors trained to spot child abuse can save lives. But when they get it wrong, families are torn apart."

GIST: "A panicked voice jolted Ann Marie Timmerman awake around 3 a.m.  “There’s something wrong with Tristan.” Her husband, Tim, stood over her, wide-eyed, holding their 4-month-old boy. Tim had been sitting up with the baby in another room, letting his nursing wife catch up on sleep. Now the infant was limp in his arms, pupils rolling back in his head. My baby's dying, Ann Marie thought as she jumped out of bed that night more than three years ago. No time for an ambulance. She yanked on a pair of pants, grabbed the child and got in her car while Tim stayed behind with their two older boys. As Ann Marie sped down the highway — one hand on the wheel, the other pressing her baby to her chest — she prayed out loud: “God, please don't take him from me.” Tristan had been their “miracle baby,” born healthy after doctors diagnosed her with an autoimmune disorder and warned she might not be able to have a third child.  Now, as she ran barefoot into an emergency room in Katy, Texas, she was afraid she might lose him. She was right, it would turn out. But not in the way she feared. A different kind of doctor: A day later, after Tristan was taken by ambulance 30 minutes away to Children’s Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston, a string of specialists cycled through his room. A radiologist scanned his brain. Another doctor examined his eyes. Then a neurosurgeon delivered good news: Tristan had a tiny brain bleed, Dr. David Sandberg said, possibly the consequence of a head injury that babies sometimes suffer during childbirth. It probably would resolve in a few days, he explained, and Tristan was safe to go home. Ann Marie cried with relief as she and Tim awaited discharge papers. But soon another doctor entered Tristan’s room and told the Timmermans she had reached a far different conclusion. Dr. Rebecca Girardet said it appeared that Tristan also had suffered bleeding in his eyes, and because of that, she wanted a more detailed brain scan. When Ann Marie protested, the doctor explained herself. “I believe that he may have been shaken,” Girardet said, according to her notes, shocking the Timmermans into silence. They didn’t know it at the time, but Girardet is not a typical pediatrician. She’s a leading figure in a relatively small but growing subspecialty of doctors who practice a rare blend of medicine and forensics, relying on medical imaging, witness interviews and past experience to diagnose not only a child’s condition, but also what caused it. Unbeknownst to many parents who encounter them, these pediatricians, now stationed at virtually every major children’s hospital in the country, work closely with child welfare agencies and law enforcement, providing expert reports and court testimony in thousands of cases a year and helping to shield untold numbers of abused children from additional harm. But in their zeal to protect children, some child abuse pediatricians also have implicated parents who appear to have credible claims of innocence, leading to traumatic family separations and questionable criminal charges, an investigation by NBC News and the Houston Chronicle has found."

The entire story can be read at: