Massachusetts Authorities Seized a Baby in the Middle of the Night After Doctors Saw Minor Injury

When Josh Sabey and Sarah Perkins took their sick 3-month-old to the emergency room, they had no idea that just two days later, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) would be confiscating their two children from their home in the middle of the night , without the approval of a judge. Why? During a routine X-ray, doctors found a small fracture on the baby’s chest, an injury social workers claimed could only be the result of child abuse.

Sabey and Perkins live outside of Boston, Massachusetts with their two sons, 3-year-old Clarence and 3-month-old Cal. As Perkins later wrotethey are a typical family of four who enjoy taking their children to the library and the local park.

On July 13, Cal developed a fever of 103 degrees and Perkins took him to the emergency room. When doctors ordered an X-ray to look for signs of a lung infection, a small, thumbprint-sized fracture was discovered in Cal’s chest. Although the injury appeared harmless, doctors were immediately suspicious and a DCF social worker was dispatched to interview Perkins, Sabey and their 3-year-old son.

Corresponding The Washington PostPerkins and her husband faced maddening interviews and were caught in a Catch-22 where social workers appeared to interpret everything Perkins and her husband said as likely signs of child abuse.

When Perkins showed no concern for Cal’s fracture, instead focusing on his high fever and difficulty breathing, a social worker wrote that the couple did not ask “enough follow-up questions” about the injury. When Perkins became emotional and started crying while her baby was undergoing painful blood draws as part of the DCF investigation, social workers thought she was worried abuse would be found. “Their concern was that I seemed upset that they might find something on the test,” Perkins later said post.

After an exhaustive series of interviews and after DCF staff examined Sabey and Perkins’ home — where no concerns were found — the couple and their children were sent home on July 14 with a DCF safety plan, assuming their ordeal was up over.

Instead, the DCF came to her home in the middle of the night – around 1:00 a.m. – and requested custody of the children, despite the lack of court documents authorizing the move. “It appears that everything was deliberately timed to avoid a court order and not having to prove to a judge that the children were in imminent danger,” Perkins later said wrote. “Their laziness came at the expense of our children’s sense of security.”

While Perkins’ parents, who had flown to Boston, were eventually awarded temporary custody of the children, it was nearly a month before Sabey and Perkins regained full custody of their children. According to that post, the couple spent over $50,000 in legal fees to convince the state to return their children. They will likely have to spend a lot more to get the couple’s “supported allegation of child molestation” removed from the record.

While Sabey and Perkins’ story is shocking, cases like theirs are surprisingly common and show how child protection agencies (CPS) are increasingly exceeding their powers.

More than 3 million children undergo CPS screening each year. By some estimates, more than a third of children are screened before they turn 18.

Citing the imminent threat of abuse, CPS authorities have sweeping powers to confiscate children, often without a judge’s approval. However, rather than just using their power to save children who are truly in danger, CPS’s scrutiny often falls on ordinary parents whose children suffer routine accidental injuries.

The justification for these sorts of seemingly illogical distances comes from the field of child abuse pediatrics, a contentious field whose most compelling theory, “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” has turned out to be junk science at best. But CPS agencies across the country and law enforcement agencies still seem quick to trust child abuse pediatricians’ claims about the origin of injuries in children. While a rib fracture like Cal’s can be caused by any rapid crushing movement — Perkins’ mother believes she may have accidentally caused the injury — the child’s doctors insisted the only likely cause of such an injury is intentional violence.

“Child abuse pediatricians very often work under secret contracts with police, child protection and prosecutors — which are never disclosed to the parents who bring their children for emergency treatment,” Diane Redleaf, legal counsel at Let Grow, told Lenore Skenazy. “These individuals have been billed as having special superhuman powers to discriminate abuse from accidents and rare diseases, superior to the powers of other physicians because they ‘know child abuse when they see it.'”

While Sabey and Perkins’ story is every parent’s nightmare, the couple is also lucky. Millions of parents face similar investigations every year – and many fail to regain custody of their children.

“It usually takes a year for parents to be reunited with their children. I remember reading that and going outside to my car and just sobbing,” Perkins said post. “I said, ‘Cal will walk before I see him again.’ And thankfully that didn’t happen to us, but it does to most people.”

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