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"I Was Investigated for Child Abuse"

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I've lived every parent's worst nightmare: I was investigated for child abuse.

mother and child

Guest blogger Janice: It all started at a routine doctor's appointment when our pediatrician noticed that our four-month-old son's head circumference was measuring abnormally large. A brain MRI performed a few weeks later showed something perplexing and scary: a hairline skull fracture and accompanying brain bleed. While my husband and I had lots of questions for the doctors, we were not at all prepared for the first question that was asked of us: "Did you shake or hurt your baby?"

Despite fiercely denying ever hurting my son, the fact of the matter was that I couldn't explain the injury. My son had never rolled off a bed, been bumped in a doorway, or been left with a babysitter. In fact, he had never been out of my immediate care since he was born.

The physician was sympathetic to our story but told us that the nature of my son's injuries forced her to take certain measures, which included referring us to the hospital's child abuse prevention team and Child Protective Services. I won't burden you with all the sordid details, but to make a long story short, we found ourselves unwittingly and instantly bound up in bureaucratic red tape. Being formally investigated for child abuse means that you live the constant fear of having your child taken away from you. It is an awful, helpless feeling, but one with which my husband and I were willing to live because we had nothing to hide. As days turned into weeks and the easy resolution we were promised was slow in coming, we consulted with an attorney. It is sad and disheartening that it had to come to this, but the threat of a lawsuit is what ultimately brought about an end to our ordeal. In a daring move, we challenged our accusers to either take our baby away or leave us alone. They left us alone.

Throughout this ordeal, I was embarrassed and scared out of my mind, to say the least. To this day, we still don't know how or when my son sustained his initial injury (they are saying now that it could have happened at birth), and I worry every day that it will happen again. Before this incident, I thought what many of you are probably thinking: if Child Protective Services is involved, this lady must have done something. Child abuse is a serious problem in this country and I understand completely why my son's injury raised red flags. However, I would be lying if I didn't say that this incident has shaken my trust in "the system" in a big way. We witnessed firsthand how easy it is to get sucked into the vortex of child abuse allegations, and how hard it is to escape it once you are there.

Once our case was closed and we breathed a collective sigh of relief, I told a few good friends my story. Instead of taking ten steps away from me, every person I told reached in and hugged me ... and then told me their story. Every mom, it seemed, had a similar experience herself, or knew someone who had. There was the clinically depressed fifth grader who lied and told his teacher that his father beat him; the toddler who fell on the edge of the coffee table and needed stitches; the preschooler who had an unfortunate habit of using the words "swatting" and "punching" interchangeably. The more people I've talked to, the more I get the sense that my case isn't all that unique.

I'm not sure how as a society we got to the place where "better safe than sorry" means overriding good judgment and common sense, yet for better or worse, here we are. The thought that I am not the only one this has happened to is at once comforting ... and terribly distressing.

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