A new law in Texas set to go live in September will make sure that child welfare workers and family courts consider additional medical opinions before removing children from their parents.
The law — drafted in response to an investigation by US news outlet NBC and passed following an in-depth research project in the state — found that legal and medical professionals were not always able to tell the difference between accidental and non accidental injuries in children.
Under the new legislation, carers accused of abuse based on a medical report will be able to request another opinion from a doctor with experience relevant to the child’s injuries. The judge overseeing the case is then required to consider the second opinion before making any child protection orders.
The new law also states that when a social services department refers a case for forensic assessment, the chosen physician must not have had any involvement with the initial report alleging abuse or neglect.
James Frank, the Texas state Representantive said:
“False removals are traumatic for kids first and foremost, but also for their parents. So we have to be more precise in the way we go through the removal process. I think sometimes when an expert in a white suit says something, there’s a tendency for [Child Protection Services] to go, ‘They’re 100 percent right.’ But that’s not always the case.”
The UK’s child protection sector has also come under fire for failing to correctly diagnose the cause of children’s injuries in such cases.
A judgment in 2019 highlighted concerns about health care professionals wrongly diagnosing accidental injuries as intentionally inflicted ones, leading to families being separated from their children. Judge Bedford who handed down the judgment said:
“It is imperative when treating medical professionals have made a diagnosis of non-accidental injury that they keep this under review and update this diagnosis when new medical evidence is received and give active consideration to convene a multidisciplinary meeting.”
The baby in the case was eventually returned to their parents and siblings, after having been separated for more than five months.
Following the judgment, Researching Reform called on the government to roll out robust training for all doctors working on cases with suspected non accidental injuries.