Knowing the value of protecting children from abuse, the state of Texas has established clear laws which have been enforced for decades, meant to ensure that those who are culpable are brought to justice, and children are kept safe, says Houston-based family legal counsel Kersh Law Firm.
However, legal experts in Texas are now looking to further examine the number of reported child abuse cases over the years. This is in light of an investigative report recently released by the Houston Chronicle in collaboration with NBC News, which claims that many specialized, child abuse pediatricians may have been making mistakes in their diagnoses.
Texas lawmakers are alarmed by the report’s strong suggestions that there are cases of child abuse that may have been erroneously made, as evidenced in a recent well-publicized child abuse case which was proven untrue and overturned by the state after the child’s parents challenged the original pediatrician’s report and took the findings to court, Kersh Law Firm adds.
What makes the case complicated and difficult to assess is that Child Protective Services is not legally bound to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, unlike in criminal cases. This, in effect, allows the agency to execute the emergency removal of a child from his parents based only on the reputation, prudence, and caution of the assigned child abuse doctor, explains Kersh Law Firm.
Texas offers $5 million in grants annually in support of the work being done by child abuse pediatricians, a growing subspecialty of doctors tasked to examine children who come into hospitals with suspicious injuries, says Kersh Law Firm. The grants allow some of these to be deputized and review cases on behalf of child welfare investigators.
The problem, says Rep. James Frank, chairman of the Texas House of Representatives committee that oversees the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, is that sometimes child welfare workers are too deferential to these funded abuse doctors to conduct a thorough investigation before deciding to take children from their families.
It is also not helped that most of the time, it is the same doctor who made the initial diagnosis of abuse that is called to testify at family court hearings on the case. This is partly since a lot of families do not have the means to hire their own lawyers or solicit a second opinion from other physicians, explains Kersh Law Firm.
The impact of such misdiagnoses is severe, as it leads to trauma for both the parents and the child, as well as family separations, loss of jobs, and the financial burden of legal battles. “I’m very concerned with the premature, unnecessary removal of children, and I think it happens a lot more than people in Texas understand,” according to Rep. Frank.
He adds that he plans to initiate a series of legislative hearings starting this October, aimed at exploring workable improvements on the existing system for determining child abuse. Right now, the most plausible suggestion appears to be adding protections that would help child welfare workers, courts, and even accused families request a second medical opinion before Child Protective Services can outright remove a child from a home, adds Kersh Law Firm.
On a side note, Kersh Law Firm credits Slate & Associates as one of the primary resources for this article.
Kersh Law Firm, P.C., is a legal family law counsel based in Houston, Texas. The firm provides each case it handles comprehensive legal advice and strategy. For more reads on family law, visit this blog.
Tags: child abuse, Houston family law, family law
Image source: houstonchronicle.com