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Judge Protects Family
August 29, 2007 permalink
From Florida here is a case in which a judge sided with a family to protect them from a run-away child protection agency.
Florida Department of Children & Families negligent for removing children from family, judge rules
Allegations against parents dropped
The state Department of Children & Families was negligent in failing to properly investigate two children's medical histories before accusing their mother of intentionally making them sick, a Broward County judge ruled Friday.
Sara Evans and her husband, Donald Evans, spent six months battling with the state agency after DCF successfully petitioned a judge in February 2006 to take temporary custody of their two children, then ages 2 and 5. The DCF dropped the case in July 2006, dismissing all abuse allegations.
DCF officials had argued that the children were victims of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a rare condition where a person deliberately makes another sick.
But before removing the children from the home, the DCF failed to conduct a full investigation, concluded Circuit Judge Marina Garcia-Wood in a sharply worded decision.
"This court finds that the failure to consult with the children's prior medical doctors and caretakers, and a careful review of all medical records, which were extensive, and the children's medical history was, in fact, medical neglect," the judge wrote.
The children had detailed medical records from California, where the family had lived, and the family's doctors gave sworn statements rejecting the abuse allegations, Garcia-Wood found. Even after the parents supplied the records and doctors' statements to the DCF, the dependency court proceedings continued for another three months, the judge ruled.
"What is apparent to this court is that [DCF officials] came up with a legal theory, i.e. that this was a case of Munchausen by Proxy, a serious form of child abuse, and attempted to substantiate their theory with inaccurate and misleading information," Garcia-Wood wrote.
The Evanses' attorney said they were glad the judge held the DCF accountable for separating the children from their parents.
"[The ruling] sends a strong message to DCF in cases like this to investigate completely what they are alleging about parents before other families are torn apart this way or put through this ordeal," said Michael Hymowitz, an attorney for the Evanses.
DCF spokeswoman Leslie Mann said she couldn't comment on the ruling because the agency hasn't received the order. The DCF had argued that the case was "a battle of medical experts," according to Garcia-Wood's ruling.
In her decision, Garcia-Wood ordered the state agency to pay for the Evanses' legal fees. Hymowitz said they are more than $300,000.
The Evanses have filed a federal lawsuit against three DCF officials, alleging they violated the couple's civil rights by taking the children away. Emily was in shelter care for 144 days and Jacob for 77 days, until they were able to live with grandparents, according to the lawsuit.
Once the children were with their grandparents, Sara and Donald Evans were allowed to see them but not touch them, according to the federal lawsuit. Records indicate Emily has had a series of metabolic and developmental problems, while Jacob had gastro-esophageal reflux.
The family now lives in a constant state of paranoia, fearing they could be separated at any time, said Robert Buschel, one of the Evanses' attorneys.
In the federal case, attorneys for the DCF officials argue that the state workers acted within the scope of their jobs and did not deprive the family of their rights.
Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel