NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

February 3, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Did you know that there’s a sub-specialty of Pediatrics called “Child Abuse Pediatrics?”  I didn’t until I read this article (WXYZ, 1/29/19).  Did you know that a physician can become board-certified in that specialty through the American Board of Pediatrics?

Did you also know that many people reject the very concept of that specialty because they doubt that any doctor can accurately intuit the cause of a particular injury?  They can diagnose the results of physical traumas to the body, like broken bones, ruptured spleens and many others.  But what caused those injuries, in the absence of reliable descriptions of what happened, edges into the realm of guesswork.
A law professor at the University of Wisconsin says Dr. Mohr's way is a recipe for disaster.
“It’s just a recipe for error and for injustice,” said University of Wisconsin Law School Professor Keith Findley.
Findley says Child Abuse Pediatricians have a huge amount of influence with the jury, and when they make a medical diagnosis of abuse, your presumption of innocence is gone.
“So to say that doctors can diagnose the conduct and intent of some third party actor is really beyond, beyond what medicine can support,” Findley said.
But few readers of this blog will be surprised to learn that Child Abuse Pediatricians are often relied on to the exclusion of other medical experts in assessing allegations of child abuse.  In Michigan, one such pediatrician is Dr. Bethany Mohr of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
They are called Child Abuse Pediatricians, and they say their mission is to protect children. However, local parents, attorneys and even some doctors say some of these specialists are tearing families apart.
The Parker family says they were emotionally and financially devastated after a false accusation of child abuse. Their lawyer says she’s had to fight against the same Child Abuse Pediatrician who accused the Parkers about 20 times, and they want to warn other families.
That doctor is Bethany Mohr.  She doesn’t work for Michigan CPS, but “communicates closely with them.”  To me that sounds like she’s their go-to doctor, the one CPS can rely on to err on the side of taking kids from parents.  Indeed, Mohr’s own public statements tend to suggest exactly that.
“How many kids would potentially be in harm’s way if we only filed on things that were really clear cut," Dr. Mohr asked during the presentation.
Her response: "Tons of kids."
That sounds like someone who sees herself standing between kids and abuse more than someone who dispassionately analyzes facts in the context of children’s and parents’ legal rights. 

But the reality is that kids in the U.S. are statistically very safe from abuse at the hands of their parents or anyone.  The Administration for Children and Families reported for 2015 about 3.2 million reports of suspected child abuse or neglect.  A whopping 80% of those reports were judged by CPS agencies to be meritless at the outset.  About 680,000 involved some level of abuse or neglect and only about 180,000 involved abuse.  That’s out of about 73.6 million children under the age of 18 according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s figures for 2016.  That in turn is about 0.24% of kids who suffer abuse each year.

But Mohr’s position is that there are “tons of kids” whose abuse exists but isn’t clear-cut.  Much of the abuse of those 0.24% of kids was surely as plain as the nose on your face.  So in fact, the children imagined by Mohr who are abused but the abuse isn’t clear are quite rare.  Tons?  Hardly.

Now, Mohr may well offer the “better safe than sorry” defense to her actions.  That is, if a doctor suspects abuse, it’s better to remove the child from the home and let the legal system decide if abuse actually occurred.

But such a position ignores important facts.  The first and most important is that removal from the home is itself traumatic to children.  Without knowing for certain that abuse suffered in the home would be worse for the child than removal, it’s hard to justify taking the kids away.  Second, innocent parents pay a steep price emotionally and financially when they see their children taken by CPS and have to fight the system to get them back.
Back in 2015, the 7 Investigators showed you how several parents had to battle allegations of abuse and neglect, even though they say their children had medical causes for their illnesses and injuries.
Ultimately, none of their parental rights were terminated. The Parkers say their experts showed the court that Dylan’s rib fractures were caused by brittle bones from a severe vitamin D deficiency, not abuse. The case was dismissed.
“By the middle to the end of the trial, we were indigent, we were already petitioning the court for funds for our last witness,” said Jimmy Parker, Dylan's father.
 So Dr. Mohr’s “better safe than sorry” stance cost one family untold heartache, emotional trauma to the child and the family’s life savings.  Who’s sorry now, Dr. Mohr?

Meanwhile, at least one doctor doesn’t mince words about Dr. Mohr.
“I’m seeing a great number of families that are being torn apart because they’ve been falsely accused of child abuse," said Dr. Douglas Smith, a retired University of Michigan Pathologist. "There are simple explanations or medical conditions that explain the injuries to the child.”
Dr. Smith volunteers his expertise for families facing abuse allegations from Child Abuse Pediatricians, including eight who have been accused by Dr. Mohr.
“I think Dr. Mohr misleads families,” Dr. Smith said. “She examines the child but she doesn’t treat any of the injuries. She will be the number one witness against the family if they’re prosecuted.”
And that, as far as I can tell, is the sole function of a Child Abuse Pediatrician.  She doesn’t treat the child, but she does testify against the parents.

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