Tag Archives: Children

TX Cares About Children And Families

.jpg photo of child abuse graphic
Some child abuse pediatricians have implicated parents who appear to have credible claims of innocence, an investigation by NBC News and the Houston Chronicle found.

Texas lawmakers want to protect families wrongly accused of Child Abuse

In response to an NBC News investigation, lawmakers want families to be allowed a second medical opinion before a child is taken from a home.

HOUSTON, TX  –  Texas lawmakers are calling for stronger safeguards in the state’s child welfare system after an NBC News and Houston Chronicle investigation found children had been taken from their parents based on disputed medical opinions from doctors trained to spot child abuse.

The reporting showed that child welfare workers removed some children from homes after receiving reports from state-funded child abuse pediatricians that were later called into question, leading to traumatic family separations and months-long legal fights.

Rep. James Frank, chairman of the Texas House of Representatives committee that oversees the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, said the investigation exposed serious problems.

“I’m very concerned with the premature, unnecessary removal of children, and I think it happens a lot more than people in Texas understand,” said Frank, a Republican from northern Texas.

Frank said he plans to call for a series of legislative hearings in the coming months to explore potential improvements.  Some legislators have suggested creating a way for courts, child welfare workers or accused families to request a second medical opinion before the state removes a child from a home.

Texas provides $5 million in grants each year — including $2.5 million from the agency that oversees Child Protective Services — to support the work of child abuse pediatricians, a small but growing subspecialty of doctors who examine children who come into hospitals with suspicious injuries.  The Texas grants deputize some of the doctors to review cases on behalf of child welfare investigators, who then rely on their reports when deciding whether to remove children from parents.

Frank acknowledged that these state-supported physicians have a difficult job and that they play a critical role in protecting abused children, likely saving lives.  But he said he’s heard from numerous parents in recent years whose children were removed by Child Protective Services based primarily on a report from a child abuse pediatrician and despite contradictory opinions from other doctors.

In those cases, Frank said he thinks child welfare workers are sometimes too deferential to agency-funded abuse doctors and fail to complete a thorough investigation before taking children.

“In most cases, the doctors aren’t saying ‘This is child abuse,’” Frank said.  “They’re saying that they are concerned that it’s child abuse.  And so I don’t know there are enough checks and balances to make sure that we have confirmed that it really is child abuse.”

Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., a Houston Democrat and lawyer who has represented a mother who says she was wrongly accused by a child abuse pediatrician, said he has begun discussions with Frank to figure out potential improvements.

“We haven’t come up with anything yet, but we’re working towards it,” he said.  “One of the things that needs to happen is we need to better define when CPS should remove children.  We’ve got to do a better job of that.”

In a statement, Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services, said the agency relies on the expertise of child abuse pediatricians when its caseworkers and other medical specialists are unable to determine if a serious injury is a result of abuse.

“We believe this process has worked well to detect abuse in complex cases and has protected children,” Crimmins said.  “But any process — particularly one with the lives of children and their families at stake — can be improved, and we want to work with legislators and stakeholders to do just that.”

In interviews, leading child abuse pediatricians said they are careful to rule out underlying medical conditions and accidental causes before issuing their opinions. The doctors acknowledged that a mistaken child abuse diagnosis can result in a child being taken from caring parents.  But overlooking warning signs, they said, could lead to a child being left in a dangerous home, with potentially fatal consequences.

To state Rep. Gene Wu, the issues raised by the NBC News and Chronicle reporting were familiar.  Wu, a Houston Democrat and lawyer, sometimes handles cases involving Child Protective Services and allegations of abuse.

“I have personally dealt with a couple of cases … where you had day-to-day physicians who said, ‘This is a typical type of bone break that is common in children of this age because they’re learning to walk,’” Wu said.  “Then the case gets looked at by the child abuse expert and they say it might be child abuse, and then everyone sort of freaks out.”

In those instances, Wu said, “CPS is sort of caught in this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation.”

Child abuse pediatricians are trained not only to identify abuse, but to identify medical conditions that can mimic abuse.  The doctors say they rule out or fail to confirm abuse more times than not.

But Wu said when medical specialists are focused on finding and preventing child abuse, it’s natural that some run-of-the-mill injuries may appear more sinister.

“If you’re a hammer, then everything is a nail,” Wu said.

In many cases, the only doctor consulted by Child Protective Services and called to testify in court is the child abuse expert who initially flagged the concerns, in part because many families do not have the money to hire seasoned lawyers or outside medical experts.

To address that, Frank and other lawmakers have suggested requiring Child Protective Services to seek additional medical opinions in some instances before removing children.  Another fix, Wu said, might be to create a mechanism for courts across the state to bring in independent experts to evaluate medically complex cases and offer a second opinion.

“We could create a pot of money that courts could dip into,” he said.  “One party could make a motion to the judge to request an independent expert, and the state could have a list of medical experts to take a look at it.”

There are no “easy solutions,” he cautioned.

“I’ve described the CPS system as a very finely balanced seesaw,” Wu said, “and if you tip it too much you’re going to take kids away from good parents, and if you tip it the other way, you’re going to have dead kids. …  Whatever we do, we need to make sure that this policy solution doesn’t tip the balance.

Jury Clears NE Woman Of Child Abuse

.jpg photo of York County NE courthouse where jury finds woman not guilty of child abuse
York County Courthouse Nebraska, where Ashley A. Eckard, 29, was found not guilty of Child Abuse.

Jury finds McCool woman not guilty
of Child Abuse

YORK, NE  –  A York County jury has found a McCool Junction woman not guilty of child abuse.

Ashley A. Eckard, 29, was charged with committing child abuse intentionally/no injury, a Class 3A felony.

Now that she has been found not guilty, the charge has been dismissed.

According to court documents, it was alleged that she burned an 8-year-old child on the hand with a lit cigarette.

According to the affidavit filed with the court, the child told investigators with Health and Human Services and the York County Sheriff’s Department that Eckard intentionally burned her three times.

The child said when she told Eckard she was going to tell other adults what happened, Eckard allegedly grabbed her by the ear and instructed her to say she had gotten hurt sliding down a slide on a bouncy house – according to the court documents.

The sheriff’s department’s investigator said he observed three burns on the child’s hand that were approximately the same size as a cigarette, in his reporting for the affidavit.

The jury was convened, a trial was held and the jury came back with the verdict of not guilty.

TX AG CEU Stops Eagle Lake Purveyor Of Child Pornography

.jpg photo of Texas Attorney General Logo graphic
TX Attorney General Logo graphic.

AG Paxton’s Child Exploitation Unit Arrests Eagle Lake Man for Possession and Promotion of Child Pornography

AUSTIN, TX  –  Attorney General Ken Paxton today announced that the Child Exploitation Unit of his office arrested 32-year-old Camron Lee Wood, of Eagle Lake, Texas, on one count of possession of child pornography and one count of promotion of child pornography.

A CyberTipline report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® (NCMEC) alerted the Child Exploitation Unit to Wood, who reportedly uploaded child pornography to a social media account.

During the execution of a search warrant, investigators found Wood to be in possession of images and videos of child pornography.

When interviewed, Wood admitted to uploading, collecting and sharing files of child pornography.

Investigators seized several digital storage devices for examination by the Digital Forensics Unit of the attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Paxton’s office works to protect children by using the latest technology to track down some of the most profoundly evil predators online.

Since its inception, the Child Exploitation Unit has made 333 arrests and obtained 589 convictions on charges for possession of child pornography.

Attorney General Paxton urges all parents and teachers to become aware of the risks children face on the internet and take steps to help ensure their safety.

If you suspect someone is producing or downloading child pornography, you can report it to NCMEC:
CyberTipline
1-800-843-5678

For more information on cyber safety, please visit:
https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/initiatives/cyber-safety/

Is Your Baby In Danger?

.jpg photo of the executive director of Kids in Danger
Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger.

Recalled Sleepers Linked To Infant Deaths Are Still Being Used in Daycare Centers

Earlier this year, Fischer-Price issued a recall of nearly five million Rock ‘n Play sleepers after the popular product was linked to at least 30 infant deaths.  Not long after, Kids II recalled 700,000 of its own inclined sleepers due to similar concerns.

Several months later, one mom was shocked to find that these dangerous sleepers are still being used in some daycare centers, which could be putting their kids at risk.

Sarah Landis, a mom from Philadelphia, told Consumer Reports that in June, she came to her one-year-old son’s daycare and discovered that a Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was in the infant facility room.  Landis told her husband, Adam Garber, who works in product safety.  Garber gave the daycare a call to see if they were aware of the recall.

“Our daycare provider, who cares deeply about the kids, was really confused,” says Garber.  “She said she thought there had only been a warning about the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper and that as long as the product was properly used, and babies were buckled in, it would be fine.”

Garber informed the daycare director that a full recall had been issued, something that the director says they were never informed about the extent of the recall and so they believed they were not putting children in danger by keeping theirs.  William Wallace, the manager of home and safety policy for Consumer Reports, says that this can be common if companies give mixed messaging about a recall.

“Recalls don’t work well unless people get a clear and consistent message.  And they especially don’t work well if manufacturers and the government fail to fully warn people about the risks of a product,” Wallace explained.

Fortunately, in this case, no infants were harmed as a result of the sleeper but considering the popularity of these products, it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t still daycare centers that are unknowingly using a product that has been proven to be dangerous.

What can you do if you are a parent who is unsure if your kid’s daycare is using one of these items?  Garber says the most effective thing you can do is reach out.

“One of the things we’re telling folks is to just go in and ask what the center’s plan is to check for and remove recalled products—and then ask about specific products,” Garber says.

Ben Hoffman, M.D., chairperson of the American Academy of Pediatric’s Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention’s executive committee, agrees, adding that the safest thing for parents is to ensure that no inclined sleepers are being used.

“I would encourage parents to talk to day care providers and make sure their babies are put to sleep in a safe way, and not in a recalled product—but ideally not in any inclined sleeper,” Hoffman says.

TX AG CEU Roundsup Tyler CO Purveyor Of Child Porn

.jpg photo of tyler county man arrested for child pornography
Sean Nicholas Berridge, 61, of Colmesneil, Texas

AG Paxton’s Child Exploitation Unit Arrests Tyler County Man for Possession of
Child Pornography

AUSTIN, TX  –  Attorney General Ken Paxton today announced that the Child Exploitation Unit (CEU) of his office arrested 61-year-old Sean Nicholas Berridge, of Colmesneil, Texas, on two counts of possession of child pornography, a third-degree felony.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® (NCMEC) referred the case to the CEU after receiving a CyberTipline report accusing Berridge of uploading child pornography to an online account.

While executing a search warrant at Berridge’s residence, investigators found images of child pornography on his cell phone.

They also seized numerous digital storage devices that will be examined by the attorney general’s Digital Forensics Unit.

During an interview with investigators, Berridge admitted he downloaded, viewed and saved files of child pornography.

Attorney General Paxton’s office works to protect children by using the latest technology to track down some of the most profoundly evil predators online.

Since its inception, the Child Exploitation Unit has made 332 arrests and obtained nearly 600 convictions for possession of child pornography.

Attorney General Paxton urges all parents and teachers to become aware of the risks children face on the internet and take steps to help ensure their safety.

If you suspect someone is producing or downloading child pornography, please report it to NCMEC.
CyberTipline
1-800-843-5678

For more information on cyber safety, please visit:
https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/initiatives/cyber-safety/