In the 1980s and 1990s, especially after the McMartin day care child sexual abuse trials, parents were overzealous to suspect that their young children had been sexually abused, as were prosecutors to bring charges of child molestation. Recently, the same panic ensued over shaken baby syndrome, now known as Abusive Head Trauma, and caused the same stirs in the legal system and throughout the homes of many parents through the United States. Now, the rising trend of child abuse and neglect proceedings seems to stem from medical child abuse.
Medical child abuse, also sometimes referred to and previously known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, is a condition where parents intentionally make their child ill, or say their child is ill, and overly medically treat the child to gain attention and sympathy from others. However, medical child abuse is often misinterpreted. Attentive parents who genuinely care about their child’s medical treatments and seek other opinions are often accused of medically abusing their children.
Michigan’s Governor’s Task Force for Child Abuse and Neglect released a manual on Medical Child Abuse stated that there are several warning signs of medical child abuse, including: “A parent/caretaker appears to be abnormally calm in the face of complications in the child’s medical course”; “A highly attentive parent/caretaker is unusually reluctant to leave his/her child’s side”; “A parent/caretaker . . . demands second and third opinions and gets angry when demands are not met”; and “A parent/caretaker may work in healthcare or have unusually detailed medical knowledge.” In total, there are 13 warning signs, some of which could be a trait of a highly concerned parent. There is no concrete standard that helps to categorize medically abusive parents from parents who are looking out for the best interests of their child.
Michigan is one of the few states that distinguish medical child abuse from other forms of child abuse for purposes of statistics. Between the years 2010 and 2013, there were, on average, 51 charges of medical child abuse brought against parents or caretakers. It is also noted in the manual on medical child abuse that, “many cases of medical child abuse go undetected” because parents and “caregivers are skilled at deceiving the medical community.”
Doctors are required to report to Child Protective Services (CPS) when they believe a child is being medically abused. CPS then does a lengthy investigation in to the medical history of the child and forensically interviews the child, among other requirements of investigation. CPS investigations may even include a planned hospitalization for the child for a period of time, video surveillance of the parent and child, and possibly even temporary separation where the child will become a ward of the court.
Medical Child Abuse can ultimately result in termination of parental rights, especially when there is a high potential for death of the child and a parent doesn’t accept his or her diagnosis of Medical Child Abuse.
One of the main practice areas of Smith Blythe, PC is providing child abuse defense to parents that are accused of causing physical or mental harm to a child, failing to protect the child from physical or mental harm, or posing unreasonable risk of harm to the child. We are experienced with representing parents at Child Protective Services proceedings, and also criminally defending parents if criminal charges accompany termination proceedings. If you or a loved one has been contacted by Child Protective Services about an investigation, or a petition has already been filed against you, call our office to set up a consultation.
An article featuring the topic of Medical Child Abuse from The New York Times can be found here.