A Valley family’s lives were turned upside down right before Thanksgiving.
At the center of the chaos is a child booster seat and the agency once known as Child Protective Services.
On Nov. 22, a five-month-old boy was checked in to a hospital with a skull fracture. The Department of Child Services alleges the boy was abused while the family — who wished to remain anonymous — says he was simply a victim of a booster seat accident.
A nurse from Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa called authorities to state that the injuries sustained by the boy were inconsistent with the story told by parents. Later that day, DCS removed the boy and three other children from the care of the family, handing them over to paternal relatives.
The family says the whole thing was an overreaction by the newly-created DCS, who showed up to the hospital in the west Valley where the baby was first taken before being transported to Cardon.
“Surprise (Ariz.) police came in, (DCS) came in and told my wife she was going to prison,” the boy’s father told KTAR News on Monday. “They just started threatening here — basically trying to force a confession of something that didn’t happen.”
The parents say the child was seated in a Bumbo seat atop a counter as she prepared breakfast for him on Nov. 22. And, according to them, he then toppled forward and hit his head on a granite countertop before being rushed to the hospital.=
According to the family, the case worker, Tiffany Hughes, did not access the child’s full medical records, contact the baby’s pediatrician or check with other close family members to see if there was history of child abuse before deciding to remove the family’s four children from the home. The three older children were turned over to their biological father who has a documented history of domestic violence, though close family and friends willingly volunteered to care for the children. Included among that group were relatives who work in law enforcement.
The injured baby, meanwhile, was released to the care of the paternal grandparents — a recently retired Phoenix police officer and his wife, who stand by the young parents maintaining this was an accident.
The baby’s father was also temporarily prohibited from making contact with a daughter from a previous relationship, who was placed in the care of her mother.
“We weren’t lying about what happened,” the mother said. “The case worker said the baby had a ‘Y-shaped’ fracture on his skull, but that was a lie. We have a copy of the X-ray. She also wrote down nonfactual information on the report — things I did not say.”
In 2007, one million Bumbo seats were recalled to provide warnings against use on raised surfaces, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The family’s attorney, Alane Roby, believes the case was grossly mishandled.
“These are productive members of society, they are good parents,” she said in an interview with KTAR. “I’ve reviewed the boy’s medical history, he had a full body scan. There is no indication this child has ever been abused. He’s happy, alert, he’s at the perfect weight, there’s no bruising, no scars, no evidence of broken ribs or bones.
“This is a child who had an accident.”
According to Roby, the Department of Child Safety has not much different than the original state agency entrusted to protect Arizona’s children.
“Case workers are overworked, underpaid, there’s no accountability. The case workers are generally very young, inexperienced and don’t understand the ramifications of the decisions they make. Children are ripped from their homes, placed in foster care even when family members are available to care for them and often,” Roby said.
“I thinks it’s a broken agency. Before the case workers were under attack for not investigating cases of child abuse. Now, the cases that I have involve DCS over-dictating terms when there needs to be no DCS involvement, as is the case with this child. It’s almost like they are over-compensating.”
Though all children involved have been placed back into their home, the injured boy’s mother is currently under criminal investigation because of the incident. She told KTAR that she fears for her job as a teacher.
The family’s attorney stressed that the parents did everything they should have done, including calling the boy’s pediatrician while en route to the emergency room, but were unable to tend to him soon after arriving at the hospital due to the DCS investigation.
“The scariest thing in the world is that this could be happening to anyone and they’d be going through the same thing,” Roby said.