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Girl Returned with Compensation

March 12, 2008 permalink

A Pennsylvania mother was falsely accused of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) and lost her daughter. She eventually got her child back from child protectors, and when threatened with litigation they gave her $125 thousand in compensation.

There are so many stories like this in the US and UK press we cannot mention them all, but still almost none in Canada.



Mom gets back girl - & $125K

County settles suit over Children & Youth.

Lancaster New Era, Published: Feb 25, 2008, 11:11 EST, Lancaster


When the Lititz woman took her toddler to the hospital more than two years ago, she had no idea of the legal fight she was about to face.

Patricia M. Shope was sitting at her daughter's hospital bedside in June 2006 when, she says, a caseworker for Lancaster County Children & Youth Agency announced he was taking custody of her child, according to court documents.

For two months, Shope fought to have her child returned, in spite, she claims in documents, of a caseworker's false accusations that she was suffering from a mental illness and his threats to put the child up for adoption if she didn't cooperate.

The county's Children & Youth Agency admits doing nothing wrong and denies almost all of Shope's allegations, according to court documents, but it recently agreed to pay the woman $125,000 to settle the lawsuit.

Most important to Shope, her lawyer said, is that she has her child back.

According to legal documents and Shope's attorney, Dennis E. Boyle, the county violated her constitutional rights to due process by taking her daughter without probable cause.

The federal lawsuit — filed against Lancaster County Children & Youth Agency and Gary Sanderson, a caseworker — was filed in November 2006, but the parties settled earlier this month before going to trial.

Crystal Gingrich, executive director of the county agency since March 2007, deferred all questions to the Lancaster County Commissioner's office. Attorneys representing the county agency in the lawsuit could not be reached for comment.

Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin said there was never any admission of fault by the county or Children & Youth Agency employees.

The decision to settle the lawsuit, Martin explained, is made by attorneys for insurance companies who need to weigh the financial impact of on-going litigation.

Shope's daughter, Breyonna, was born prematurely in June 2005 and had a history of ear infections, according to court documents.

In May 2006, she was treated for chronic ear infections at Lancaster Regional Medical Center and the following month, on June 6, 2006, Breyonna was taken to Lancaster General Hospital for an unexplained fever. She was diagnosed with chronic ear infection and admitted to the hospital.

Two days later, Shope claims, as she sat with her child in a hospital room, Sanderson, accompanied by two city police officers, entered the room and told Shope they'd be taking custody of her daughter.

When asked why, Shope said Sanderson told her he suspected she was under the influence of some type of narcotic. She volunteered for a urine drug test, which came back negative.

According to court records, Sanderson specifically denied telling Shope he was taking her child, but admitted questioning the woman as to whether she was under the influence of drugs.

Shope said Sanderson told her he was still taking the child because she had "too many doctor's visits" and accused her of having a serious psychological problem, specifically Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a disorder in which a parent intentionally injures a child and then seeks medical treatment for the child.

In a letter dated June 9, 2006, Shope said she was advised that the agency suspected her of "serious physical neglect" and filed a petition to seek custody.

Four days later, on June 13, 2006, in another letter, Children & Youth requested that Shope undergo a psychological evaluation to determine her fitness as a mother.

Two University of Pennsylvania psychologists evaluated Shope and sent letters to county authorities concluding that she "did not suffer from Munchaussen Syndrome by Proxy or any other psychological illness that affected her ability to care for her child."

An emergency hearing was scheduled for June 12, according to the lawsuit, with a subsequent hearing scheduled for June 23.

But when she and her attorney arrived for the hearing on June 23, they were told that it had already been held in her absence, with the court ruling in favor of Children & Youth.

Neither she or her attorney had been notified of the time change and the next hearing had been scheduled in August 2006, she claimed. However, the county claims that Shope's attorney at the time was aware of and had agreed to the change.

When Shope complained about the decision made in absentia, Sanderson "indicated that she needed to agree with everything Lancaster County Children & Youth Agency wanted to do or Lancaster County Children & Youth Agency would have her parental rights terminated and adopt-out Breyonna to another family."

"Sanderson continued to threaten to adopt Breyonna to another family," according to the lawsuit, "telling Ms. Shope that the 'clock is ticking' if she continued to persist in her attempts to obtain custody of her daughter."

On July 31, Breyonna was finally returned to her mother when Children & Youth determined the report of serious physical neglect was unfounded. A county judge made it official on Aug. 28.

The cost of her two month battle: legal fees of $8,971 and psychologist fees of $1,050.

Boyle said the county violated Shope's right to due process, based on threats to her and the length of time they kept the toddler in foster care.

"We're pleased," Boyle said, "but this was never about the money....It was about sending a message to the agency not to do anything like this again."

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Source: Lancaster New Era