When Take Care of Maya debuted on Netflix this summer, it quickly rose to the 2nd most viewed show on the platform. Those who watched the documentary found themselves gripped by the tragedy of what happened to Maya Kowalski and her family. Earlier this month, a jury ruled that the hospital was guilty of false imprisonment, battery, medical negligence, fraudulent billing, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They awarded the family $211 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
Maya Kowalski (Source: New York Post)
Maya Kowalski, who is now 17, suffers from Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a rare condition that causes chronic debilitating pain. When Maya was 10 years old, her father brought her to the emergency room at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. Dr. Sally Smith, a child abuse pediatrician employed by the hospital, ignored the opinions of Maya’s treatment team and accused the mother of fabricating the CRPS diagnosis. As a result, Maya was removed from her parents' custody, denied appropriate pain management care, held captive at the hospital for 87 days, and tormented by hospital employees who wrongly told her that her mother was mentally ill and had caused her medical condition. Maya’s mother, overwhelmed by the wrongful allegation and longing for her daughter to be freed from the hospital’s grip, committed suicide. A week later, Maya was released from Johns Hopkins and returned home. She continues to suffer from CRPS, but her suffering is now compounded by her shattered trust in the medical care system and the loss of her mother.
The Kowalski’s tragic case, while distinct in its details, serves as a much-needed call to action that extends beyond the confines of a single family's ordeal and sheds light on the critical need for providing families with access to the medical and legal resources needed to overcome medically-based wrongful allegations of child maltreatment. While all 50 states provide ever-increasing funding to the colossal child protection bureaucracy that allows child abuse pediatricians like Dr. Sally Smith to operate without transparency or accountability, there is no government funding provided to help those wrongly accused—like the Kowalski family—prove their innocence.
The Family Justice Resource Center (FJRC) was founded in 2018 for the specific purpose of providing wrongly accused families with real-time assistance in obtaining experienced legal representation and access to independent medical experts experienced in differentiating between findings associated with abuse and those associated with underlying medical conditions, birth trauma, and common household accidents that can result in findings that mimic those associated with abuse. The FJRC was not involved with the Kowalski family’s case, but the Center has helped families facing wrongful allegations of fabricating their child’s illness, which is sometimes referred to as Munchausens by Proxy. Past FJRC client families accused of Munchausens by Proxy include the Kruegers and Steltz families, who have made national headlines for their efforts to hold the child welfare system accountable for their reliance on child abuse pediatricians. The Kruegers filed a federal lawsuit against Dr. Channing Petrak of the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, and Kim Steltz co-founded the Parents Medical Rights Group, which has spearheaded efforts to call for accountability for Dr. Debra Jenssen of Lehigh Valley Health Network. The FJRC is not only involved with case assistance but is also actively engaging in policy advocacy. This year, the Center worked with Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford to introduce the Protecting Innocent Families Act, which seeks to require child abuse pediatricians to notify parents that they are not part of the treatment team and are only involved in the child’s care for the purpose of a child abuse investigation, as well as requiring them to tell parents that they have the right to get a second opinion. By operating as a 100% donor-funded 501(c)3 entity, the FJRC underscores the importance of community support in safeguarding the well-being of innocent children and families, ensuring that no one faces alone the profound hardships endured by the Kowalskis. As the Center continues its vital work, it invites individuals to contribute to its mission, emphasizing that all donations are tax deductible and play a pivotal role in fostering justice, transparency, and support for those navigating the complex landscape of wrongful allegations. You can support the Family Justice Resource Center by making a donation here.