When Is Child Abuse Suspected?
The rate of child abuse is often higher in regions or areas of the country with a nearby Children’s Hospital. Often, this is because Children’s Hospitals employ specialists called Child Abuse Pediatricians whose job it is to “diagnose” abuse. When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
When a child suddenly stops breathing or suffers seizures after what seems to be an accidental fall, abuse is often suspected. Pediatricians often “diagnose” abuse or presume shaking because they subscribe to antiquated theories about the forces necessary to cause injury.
Can Accidents Look Like Abuse?
Significant debate exists in the medical community about whether children can be seriously injured or die from short, accidental falls. Many child abuse pediatricians opine that serious head injuries and death can only occur from multi-story falls or inflicted force like that involved in a car accident. But, many biomechanical engineers who actually study and understand the physics involved in short falls believe differently.
For years, pediatricians have said that children with subdural hemorrhages, retinal hemorrhages, and intracranial pressure must have been shaken by their caregivers. They claimed abuse had to be responsible when caregivers described falls from cribs, swing sets and anything less than a two-story window because they refused to believe that short falls could cause serious injuries. Instead, they claimed that any caregiver describing a short fall was lying to cover up abuse by shaking or inflicted blunt impact. These diagnoses persist even when there were no other signs of abuse.
What Factors Play A Role In Determining If Abuse Took Place?
Even after forensic pathologists like John Plunkett were able to present videotaped evidence of a child suffering these injuries after falling from a play set, pediatricians still deny that these injuries can occur. Instead, they rely on diagnosing abuse through child abuse teams that consider things the following when deciding if the parents are telling the truth about how the child was injured:
- Socio-economic status
- The Parent’s Marital status
Child abuse pediatricians then validate their diagnoses by comparing other cases in which they have already diagnosed abuse. When criticized for circular logic, child abuse pediatricians point to cases where parents “confessed” to shaking their children. But, these confessions are often suspect.
Often, distraught parents are pressed by law enforcement to identify how the child could have sustained such serious injuries. When told that according to child abuse pediatricians, the fall they described could not possibly be the cause, parents are routinely asked: “Did you shake the child when trying to revive it? If a parent says they did, this is treated as a confession and used to prove that the injury came from shaking, not a fall.
If a child abuse pediatrician has “diagnosed” non-accidental injury or presumed you injured your child, you need a knowledgeable and experienced attorney that seeks the truth about your child’s symptoms who will ask the right questions and keep the State from jumping to conclusions. Defending these cases requires understanding the true state of the science and consulting experts who keep up on the ever-evolving research.
Articles by John Plunkett, M.D : The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology (lww.com)
Dr. John Plunkett, Champion of Justice, 1947–2018 | On Shaken Baby (onsbs.com)