Thursday, May 21, 2009

School curbs girl's report on gay rights activist Milk

The project was to create a powerpoint about a famous person to present to the class. The sixth grade girl chose Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in the U.S., about whom a feature film had recently been released. When it was her turn to present to the class the school principal said the teacher had to get permission from parents under the school's sex education policy for other class members to attend.

School curbs girl's report on gay rights activist Milk

The powerpoint is included in a link with the above article. Give me a break - she mentions that Milk was gay (no-duh) and the name of his partner but there was nothing else in it that should have required a parental permission slip. The ACLU is asking that she be allowed to give her presentation to the whole class and that the school give her an apology that they send to all the parents who received the original sex ed notification.

I'm all for parents having a say in the education of their children but, as the U.S. Supreme Court said in Tinker v. Illinois ..., students "do not leave all their rights at the schoolhouse door." The government should not be engaged in content-based censorship.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shaken baby or not?

A report in the Brockton Enterprise Increases in shaken baby cases concerns officials tells of various officials' speculation about the rise in reported cases of suspected shaken babies.

There are experts in the field of evidence-based medicine who suggest that there are other explanations for many of the injuries that the shaken baby prevention advocates attribute solely to vigorous shaking. The pediatric neurologist and pediatric radiographer who spoke at a seminar I attended sponsored by the (Massachusetts) Juvenile Bar Association two years ago delineated the genesis of Shaken Baby Syndrome. They pointed out the flaws in the "research" of the founder of the Shaken Baby movement and how the advocates ignored contrary evidence in a series of cases.

The Shaken Baby Advocates insisted that the injuries and signs apparent in various infants and toddlers could not have been caused by anything other than being vigorously in the manner they propose. Then the evidence-based medicine teams would scientifically prove that the injuries could have been caused by a car accident as described by the accused parents in one case, by falling down the stairs with the baby as described by the accused parents in another case and even by falling out of a high chair as described by the accused parents in yet another.

The cases often rely on the assertion that certain retinal damage patterns can only be caused by a baby being vigorously shaken but the evidence-based presenters showed that the claim was based on believing an assumption that did not look at a wide enough collection of retinal damage patients. When retinal images across other medical specialties besides just child abuse pediatrics are viewed, there are many other causes including some as benign as sneezing that cause the retinal images that shaken baby prosecutors so often rely upon.

The bad economy may be causing a lot of hardship but it is not necessarily the cause of an increase in reported shaken baby cases. An increase in reported shaken baby cases may not even be caused by an increase in shaken babies. When DCF investigators or police are investigating an injured baby case they may well have a predilection to think shaken baby and be dealing with a system of "experts" too quick to disbelieve the parents and assume inflicted injury.

If you are the subject of a 51A (report of child abuse or neglect), are accused of having shaken your baby or are subjected to any other investigation by police or the Department of Children and Families (DCF, formerly the Department of Social Services, DSS) be sure to contact an attorney with experience in this field BEFORE your interviews, BEFORE letting them into your home.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Families are too important to fail.

In an op/ed piece in today's Boston Globe, Vulnerable children are suffering twice, the chief of Ambulatory Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and the executive director of The Children's League of Massachusetts tell the story of a mother helped by the Department of Children and Families despite budget cuts.
Despite their increasing caseloads, the late-night DCF worker and a supervisor came to assess the situation. They knew something we didn't - that this wasn't the first time this mother, a depressed refugee who had been through God knows what before arriving in the United States, had told a caregiver that she was in trouble. By the end of the evening, the mother was in the hospital being treated for her depression, and the children were safe in an emergency placement. The next day, with the mother's agreement, they were placed with a family friend. Now, the mother is out of the hospital with daily supports and the children are back home.
From my perspective as an attorney who has seen way too many cases in which the only help a troubled family received from DSS was to have their children placed in foster care and to face an unnecessarily long and arduous process of getting them back, this case may represent an unintended benefit of DCF's budget and caseload problems. All too often, in my and my colleagues' caseloads, a mother with a history with the Department mentions to a "caregiver" that she is feeling overwhelmed only to have had DSS place her kids in foster care and put them on an adoption track because the mother couldn't "correct" her condition quickly enough.

The "vulnerable children" piece starts by saying the mother brought her children into the clinic "recently." By a couple paragraphs later they are "back home". More often, in my experience, the other parent or a caring family member, let alone "a family friend" is denied the opportunity to help with their troubled relative's children when troubles are brought to the attention of DSS/DCF. It seems to me that not having this repeat customer's kids be subjected to a longer stay in foster care with strangers might be an unintended benefit of DCF's increasing caseload and decreasing budget. Maybe DCF's budget crisis helped these children get home more quickly.

If increasing caseloads and a tightening budget cause DCF workers and supervisors to give additional thought to whether children need to be in foster care and whether their families can be helped instead of being discarded while the children get a brand new "forever family," it might go a long way toward making DCF into a valuable safety net to which troubled parents feel safe turning for help instead of a feared monster set only on gobbling up their children and spitting out the parents who love them.

The authors end by saying:
Citibank, AIG, and the automakers have received unprecedented amounts of money from the federal government because they are deemed "too big to fail." We need to remember to look out for those who are "too little to fail."
To that I would add that families need to be thought of as "too important to fail" and that therefore more of them may need to be treated with the respect and true assistance that this refugee mother apparently received instead of keeping them from their families and rushing them to "permanency" in non-family placements.

Read the rest of the Globe op/ed here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In re: Adoption of Sebastian

Fascinating case of first impression from Manhattan Surrogates Court -- In re: Adoption of Sebastian. Mom whose ovum was implanted in her spouse's uteris after in vitro fertilization is permitted to adopt her child to ensure full, safe recognition of her legal relationship with the child.

The court noted that because of the international nature of the couple, because of the state's out-dated paternity laws and because of the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" (so-called), though there were less expensive, quicker ways to protect the relationship to which genetic mom was entitled with her child, adoption was the only way to assure full and complete recognition.

Read full opinion here.