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December 10, 2014

Medical Kidnappings Must Stop!


Senior Counsel James R. Mason is a member of HSLDA’s litigation team, which helps homeschool families who are facing legal challenges. He and his wife homeschool. Read more >>

We have all seen the stories of children being taken away from their parents because a doctor doesn’t agree with the family doctor’s medical treatments. These are not cases of medical neglect. They are arrogant abuses of power.

Today, HSLDA has filed a lawsuit against an even more outrageous abuse of power inflicted on a homeschooling mom, Vanessa Wilson.

Doctors were Ignored

On April 3, 2014, a child protective services (CPS) worker seized Vanessa’s 4-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son on allegations of medical neglect. Her evidence? The CPS worker, who had adult type 2 diabetes, looked at some archived results in the daughter’s blood glucose meter and—based solely on her own, personal experience with diabetes—determined that the readings were “dangerously high.”

No medical records were reviewed. No doctor was called.

Convinced of her own medical expertise, the CPS worker—who had two other caseworkers, a casework supervisor, and an armed police officer with her—removed the 4-year-old diabetic daughter from Vanessa upon threat of arrest. The CPS worker also removed Vanessa’s 7-year-old son, who was perfectly healthy.

Think this is outrageous? It only gets worse.

Vanessa’s daughter had been diagnosed only months before with new-onset type 1 juvenile diabetes. There is a significant difference between adult type 2 diabetes and type 1 juvenile diabetes. Since her diagnosis, Vanessa’s daughter had been under the regular care of a pediatrician, who had absolutely no concerns about Vanessa’s ability to care for her daughter. In fact, the blood sugar levels that the CPS worker thought were “dangerous” were perfectly appropriate for the daughter.

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We know this because the caseworkers took the girl to the hospital. There, at the request of the caseworkers, doctors with the requisite knowledge, training, skill, and medical licenses (all of which the CPS workers lacked) performed a hemoglobin A1C test. This is a long-range test that measures the average blood sugar level of the patient over the preceding three months.

On April 4, 2014—the day after the children were taken from Vanessa’s home—these doctors concluded that the girl’s medical condition and blood sugar levels were stable. They also found that the daughter’s diabetes had actually improved since her original diagnosis in January.

Did this cause the CPS workers to relent?

No!

Not even after a second doctor agreed on April 6 that the girl’s overall medical condition and blood sugar levels were stable, and that there was no medical reason why the girl could not be discharged from the hospital immediately.

Suppressing the Evidence

In spite of the clear medical evidence, the CPS workers kept the daughter in custody. On April 8, they went to a detention hearing before a Superior Court judge and asked the judge to keep the children separated from Vanessa. The CPS workers claimed that the daughter’s health had been seriously neglected. But they said absolutely nothing about what the doctors at the hospital had actually found.

What’s more, the lawyer for the State of California continued to argue that this girl was at risk when the CPS worker took her, citing only the inaccurate medical information that the worker had provided.

The silence of the CPS workers and prosecutor is inexcusable. Under California law, when CPS workers ask a doctor to examine a child for evidence of abuse or neglect, they have a statutory duty to disclose the results of that examination to the court and to the parents. Similarly, the Ninth Circuit has held that the United States Constitution places an affirmative duty on the prosecutor to find out what evidence has been discovered that might exonerate the parents, and to disclose it to all parties—especially to the court.

Both the CPS workers and the attorney utterly failed to follow these standards. The State of California’s officials knew the truth, but they remained silent. The court was kept in the dark.

And then the situation got worse.

Refusal to Hear Medical Testimony

HSLDA had an experienced local lawyer, Rex Lowe, appear before the judge to represent Vanessa. Lowe had a medical expert ready to testify during this hearing to explain to the judge that the girl’s blood sugar levels were perfectly appropriate and posed no reason for concern.

But the judge absolutely refused to allow any medical testimony.

Relying solely on the medical opinion of the CPS worker, the judge allowed CPS to keep custody of both the daughter and the son—even though no one ever argued, much less proved, that the son’s health was at risk.

The situation dragged on. Both children remained in CPS’s custody until yet another hearing was held 20 days later. During this time, the CPS workers enrolled the son in public school because they distrusted Vanessa’s home education philosophy. Not a shred of evidence was presented to the court to show that Vanessa had failed to educate her children.

And, yes, as you may have suspected, the injustice became even more blatant.

At the second hearing, HSLDA had two doctors standing by to testify that the girl was not at any medical risk. The two doctors—a pediatrician and an endocrinologist—had personally observed the daughter at the hospital. They were prepared to testify not only that she had not been in any danger at the time she was removed from her home, but also that her diabetes had actually improved while under Vanessa’s care.

Yet once again, the judge refused to allow any such testimony.

And once again, the prosecutor continued to sit silently, withholding the evidence of the state’s own medical evaluation by a qualified doctor, which showed that the girl was fine. Two additional CPS workers were brought into the case at this second hearing. They, too, kept both Vanessa and the court in the dark.

Vanessa’s legal team became suspicious when the family’s pediatrician mentioned that she had examined the daughter at the state’s request the day after CPS took custody. CPS never disclosed any records or reports to the team. Finally, Lowe was able to obtain the girl’s medical records directly from the hospital after an almost four-week delay.

Shocked, Lowe confronted the prosecutor with his discovery that the state had been hiding not one, not two, but three favorable medical examinations—undertaken at the request of CPS by their own licensed doctors—which all confirmed that on the day after Vanessa’s children were removed, CPS knew there was no medical reason to continue detaining them.

We cannot stand by when government agents treat any of our families in this outrageous manner.

The prosecutor promptly dismissed the petition. But the damage had already been done. Vanessa’s 7-year-old son had been held in custody for a total of 29 days. Vanessa’s 4-year-old daughter had been held in custody for 50 days.

All this happened because government agents, who had the knowledge, power, and duty to act, chose to do nothing.

Protecting our Rights

HSLDA is fighting back with a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of this family. You can read the full complaint here.

This civil rights challenge is, first and foremost, for Vanessa and her family. But it is also for every American homeschooler. We cannot stand by when government agents treat any of our families in this outrageous manner.

In a larger sense, this lawsuit is for all American parents. Child welfare personnel and members of the medical profession do important services for our communities. However, this does not give them the power or right to seize children on the basis of preference and conjecture, rather than evidence and real science.

A New York statute says it well: If parents are seeking lawful medical treatment from a licensed practitioner, the government cannot remove the child without convincing evidence of serious harm to the child. That is a wise standard to follow.

In Vanessa’s case, the medical evidence was forbidden by the judge and withheld by the prosecutor. We cannot afford to let this sort of misbehavior pass by unchallenged. It is a threat to our families, our rule of law, and our cherished rights.

This must end. Will you help us with the costs of defending Vanessa and her children?

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Protect Your Family

If you or someone you know is not a member of HSLDA, will you consider taking a moment today to join or recommend us? Your support for our work enables us to defend individual families threatened by government officials and protect homeschooling freedom for all. Join now >>