FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 27, 2023
SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) has introduced the Protecting Innocent Families Act, which seeks to address systemic issues that are causing innocent parents to face wrongful allegations of child abuse due to medical misdiagnosis.
Currently, parents have little ability to defend themselves if a state-contracted child abuse pediatrician misdiagnoses a child as being the victim of abuse due to such factors as birth injuries, medical conditions, and accidental injuries. SB 2246 creates safeguards to promote objective decision-making and address conflicts of interest in child abuse investigations.
“Establishing transparency when it comes to forensic investigations of abuse and neglect is vital,” said Senator Lightford. "Charging a parent or guardian with neglect or abuse should not be the sole decision of a single DCFS investigator. This measure will allow families to obtain a second medical opinion and provides protections to ensure children are not needlessly ripped from their homes on the basis of a single individual’s assessment of the situation.” Families of color and parents of children with rare diseases are particularly vulnerable to medically-based wrongful allegations of child abuse. Such families often face prolonged juvenile court proceedings, high legal costs, job loss, and even wrongful convictions.
According to the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, Black children are reported as suspected victims at a rate of 2.5 times their proportion in the overall U.S. population. DCFS reports that In Cook County alone, 68% of kids in DCFS care are Black, compared to 23% of the general population. Moreover, once the system intervenes against Black families, case data reveals they experience more serious charges and longer separation times than other families, even when the allegation is ultimately proven to be false.
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, over 25 million people in the US suffer from a rare disease and the average patient will suffer for five to ten years before receiving a rare disease diagnosis. While waiting for a diagnosis, children can experience unexplained symptoms such as bruising, bone fragility, vascular fragility, failure to thrive, seizures, developmental delays, and more. Each of these symptoms can trigger child abuse investigations, which often create a further delay in diagnosis and treatment, and can result in family separation.
SB 2246 seeks to address systemic issues to better equip innocent families to defend themselves against wrongful allegations of abuse. The bill:
Requires child abuse pediatricians who hold state contracts with prosecutors and DCFS to identify themselves to families as forensic investigators, not members of the child’s treatment team.
Requires families to be informed, at the conclusion of an investigation, as to which medical professionals provided consultation to the State regarding the allegation of abuse, with exceptions for the confidentiality of child abuse reporters or in cases of threatened harm.
Stops children from being exposed to medically-unnecessary medical tests and radiation without their parents’ consent. This ensures that invasive testing and radiation will not be used solely for investigative purposes when the state does not otherwise have solid evidence to support an abuse conclusion.
Allows families to seek second opinions from independent medical experts and requires DCFS to consider those opinions.
Requires DCFS to report data and demographic statistics on outcomes of forensic opinions so that forensic investigators can be held accountable for patterns of misdiagnosis and bias.
Michelle Weidner, Executive Director of the Family Justice Resource Center, says this bill will protect both abused children and innocent parents, stating, “Research clearly indicates that there are many medical conditions that can mimic the signs of abuse. While there is a role for medical professionals in the evaluation of suspected child abuse, there must be safeguards to protect vulnerable families from the harm that occurs when investigators get it wrong.”
Weidner and her husband experienced a medically-based wrongful allegation of child abuse in 2010, when a child abuse pediatrician misread the radiological scans and incorrectly told investigators that a blurred line was a skull fracture. Even when it was established that there was no fracture, DCFS was required to keep the investigation open for over three months because the child abuse pediatrician would not acknowledge the error.
Weidner co-founded the Family Justice Resource Center in 2018. Since then, the Center has helped reunite over one hundred children with their innocent parents by connecting families to experienced legal and medical resources, and advocating for policies and practices that uphold due process and evidence-based medicine.
ABOUT THE FJRC: The Family Justice Resource Center was founded in 2018, and it strives to ensure that child abuse investigations are rooted in due process and evidence-based medicine. FJRC’s efforts have reunited countless families whose lives have been severely impacted by a wrongful allegation, and ultimately helped to free-up resources to help protect children who have actually been abused. Their motto is: Protecting Children by Promoting Science and Common Sense.