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New York May Cut CPS Powers

June 16, 2008 permalink

A bill is pending in New York state to limit the power of child protectors to grab children on pretext of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP). This is the second state legislature this year (the other is Washington) to bring up a measure to limit the power of child protectors.



Seek child custody changes

Amber James
Amber James

State lawmakers have floated a bill to make it harder for the government to take custody of children from guardians who are suspected of suffering from a rare mental illness called Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Bona fide cases of the disease - in which a caregiver deliberately makes a child sick to get attention - are exceedingly rare. But child welfare agencies have increasingly been citing it as a way to take custody of kids, experts and lawmakers said.

"I think nine times out of 10 it's an attempt to bootstrap a crummy case," said Eric Mart, a psychologist who is an expert on the disease.

State Sen. Owen Johnson (R-Babylon) introduced the bill in April after a family who lives in his district approached him about the removal of their two children from their home for more than two years on what they called baseless accusations.

Last fall, Marvin and Vanessa James of South Ozone Park lost custody of their daughter, Amber, now 6, after the city alleged Vanessa James to be suffering from the illness. Even after Vanessa had three court-ordered psychiatric evaluations and was involuntarily hospitalized for a week, the family said the city has found nothing to support the claim.

Johnson's bill would prevent child protection agencies from using Munchausen syndrome by proxy to justify taking kids away from parents in the absence of other evidence of abuse.

The Suffolk family - who could not be named because of a court gag order - "went through a similar experience," said Johnson's spokeswoman, Kathleen O'Neill.

"He wants to put the best interests of family and children first by putting safeguards in place, such as requiring a hearing be held before putting a child into custody based on an allegation," of the disease, she said.

"The senator met with the Suffolk family and was personally moved by their story. It's just sad," O'Neill said. "This is really attempting to do something that would protect children from this in the future."

The other provision in Johnson's bill would require courts to allow testimony by the family's doctor backing the family's decision to seek medical care. That would be used to rebut an agency's claim.

Amber James has been in various foster homes for nearly a year. Her father supports Johnson's bill.

Mart also supports the bill.

"There's a lot of confusion about this," he said of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. "It's ridiculous," Mart said. "Can you imagine going forward with a case of physical abuse and no evidence of physical abuse?"

Source: New York Daily News