A new state law is giving families more of a chance to prove their innocence in some child abuse cases.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst authored Senate Bill 1578, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law last week. The new law focuses on situations where the child’s injury might actually be a medical illness.
Five years ago, Timothy Lee Timmerman Jr. woke up to find his 4-month-old son Tristan having a seizure. He and his wife, Ann Marie, rushed their child to the hospital.
“He had a CAT scan, and he had a subdural hematoma. We know now that behind the scenes, they have to make a call to CPS about this,” Timmerman said.
Child Protective Serves contracts specific medical experts across the state to look at cases that may have been caused by abuse or neglect. The team used in the San Antonio area is called the Center for Miracles.
In Timmerman’s case, in Houston, those experts concluded Tristan’s injury was caused by abuse.
“I didn’t do anything to my child. It’s like I lost the ability to speak. I couldn’t even fathom what they were saying,” Timmerman said.
The state took custody of the baby while court hearings continued. He was placed with Timmerman’s in-laws.
During that time, Timmerman sought second medical opinions that eventually revealed why his son had a seizure.
“He had benign hydrocephalus, and he had this blood condition, and those things were never investigated,” Timmerman said.
Timmerman said the second opinions were never actually submitted. The case was simply dismissed. Although he got his son back, it took years for him to clear his record.
Still scarred by the experience, Timmerman and his wife testified this session on behalf of state Senate Bill 1578, now signed into law.
“It now allows for those parents to seek a second medical opinion, and those medical individuals do not need to be experts of abuse and neglect,” said Carrie Wilcoxson, a former Child Protective Services investigator turned reform advocate.
Wilcoxson now works as a private CPS case consultant for families and attorneys. Her clients have these types of cases where underlying medical conditions falsely point to abuse. For example, vitamin D deficiencies can lead to increased bruising, or blood disorders can more easily cause severe bleeding.
“Currently, all the proceedings attached to the investigations are limited to those medical consultants’ assessments. In some instances, I have these cases -- they’re not even seeing the child. They’re providing assessment off of a screenshot of a picture that doesn’t have measurements,” Wilcoxson said.
SB 1578 not only allows parents to submit second opinions but also prohibits removals based solely on the contracted medical team’s assessment.
Wilcoxson said the new law offers a better and broader assessment of cases like the Timmermans’, in which a child’s underlying health conditions can mimic abuse and lead to misdiagnosis and unnecessary child removals.
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