Home » Maine Law » DHHS Abuse of Parents Uncovered, In a Story Naming Names.

DHHS Abuse of Parents Uncovered, In a Story Naming Names.

DHHS Abuse of Parents Uncovered, In a Story Naming Names.

Posted by Edmund R. Folsom, Esq.

January 26, 2020


Here, I’m doing my bit to spread the word about legal proceedings ordinarily shrouded in complete darkness.  A story in the January 26, 2020 Maine Sunday Telegram brings DHHS child protective proceedings into the light, in a way that is probably a once in a lifetime event.  This is a little off my beat of criminal defense, but I used to handle these cases ages ago and some of it still rankles.  Sometimes when a child dies at a parent’s hands, the finger of blame is immediately pointed at the DHHS for failing to prevent the death.  Aspects of the DHHS’s involvement with the family become public during the murder or manslaughter proceedings against the parent. What the public almost never learns anything about, though, are those times when the DHHS and their bevy of expert witnesses run roughshod over parents. The proceedings are confidential, shrouded in secrecy from all but the participants. No public proceeding causes the details to leak. Except today, in one such case, details have leaked and names have been named in the Maine Sunday Telegram. You will probably never see it happen again, so I encourage you to read all about it. It’s a long and detailed story, so for those not inclined to make the commitment, I will try to summarize it here.

Mom and dad have a child with an unusual medical condition that affects his ability to breath and swallow. They have been unable to get answers to exactly what’s wrong with their son. When the son was 3 years old, mom consulted doctors in Boston who performed a tracheostomy, inserting a breathing tube. At some point, doctors also inserted a feeding tube. The kid remained seriously ill. The kid’s local pediatrician was still in the medical loop and eventually got the idea that mom might be making up the kid’s symptoms, in a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. The local pediatrician conveyed his concerns to Maine Medical Center and to a Boston hospital. After this, Boston doctors confronted mom as to whether she was making up the kid’s symptoms. Mom told her personal counselor and her son’s home health care nurse about her confrontation with the Boston doctors.

Based on mom’s statement that doctors suspected a case of Munchausen by proxy, the counselor and home health care nurse believed they were mandated by statute to report possible abuse to DHHS. As an aside, such reporting is mandatory for certain people because the State has determined the interest in protecting children from abuse outweighs the individual’s interest in confidentiality. The flip side is that this turns trusted medical and mental health treatment providers into government informants against their patients. As mom found out here, the wrong words to the wrong person can lead to your child being raised by the village, without any input from you. Once the counselor and home health nurse made their reports, the DHHS formulated a plan. The plan was to take the kid from mom and dad, put him in a Boston hospital for 2 weeks, have doctors remove the feeding and breathing tubes and see how it went. If the kid did alright, that would prove their Munchausen theory of abuse. None of the kid’s treatment providers recommended this course of treatment, but that was the DHHS’s plan anyway.

The DHHS set their plan in motion by seeking a preliminary child protective order to take the kid, sever contact with mom and dad, and send the kid to Boston for tube removal. But the judge who reviewed the petition didn’t find sufficient grounds to order this without a full evidentiary hearing as to whether the child was in circumstances of jeopardy. The judge denied the preliminary protective order and set the matter for a full hearing. The DHHS, who had been prepared to immediately whisk the kid away from his family and into their clutches, dug in and readied for trial with a couple of medical expert witnesses. One of their experts was from the Spurwink Clinic, which contracts with the DHHS and does a lot of the DHHS’s bidding in child protective cases. Another of their expert witnesses is a somewhat controversial Boston doctor/expert witness. Both of the State’s experts pegged this as a case of medical abuse through Munchausen by proxy. As another aside, sometimes people suspect that expert witnesses called by the defense in criminal cases might just be guns for hire. Those people are deluding themselves if they think expert witnesses for the State are all impartial actors, dedicated to the pursuit of truth through scientific objectivity.

In any event, the judge who denied the preliminary protective order took pause that it was medical doctors who decided to perform surgery on the kid, not the kid’s mom. All of the kid’s treating physicians are also mandated reporters of child abuse, and none of them reported abuse. Presumably, doctors don’t perform surgery solely based on a mother’s made up claims. The DHHS expert witness from Boston reviewed medical records and claimed mom was the only one reporting the kid’s symptoms, seemingly bolstering the claim she was making them up. But the guardian ad litem (the lawyer whose role it is to represent the kid’s interests in the case) couldn’t help but notice, and report to the court, there were many instances in the medical records where nurses noted that they also observed the kid’s symptoms. In the guardian’s view, the evidence of abuse just wasn’t there. The State tried to sway the guardian ad litem to come around to their way of thinking, but their efforts failed. As the trial date drew near, the State entered a dismissal of the child protective action.

Before the State dismissed the action, as the trial date was approaching, they sent a letter to the kid’s mom and dad stating that they had “substantiated” the kid’s abuse and had also found that abuse of one of the kid’s 3 siblings was “indicated.” These standards — “substantiated” and “indicated” — hover somewhere around a “whiff of belief” and a “whiff of suspicion” on the burden of proof scale. But they sound ominous, and they stay as a permanent record with the DHHS even when a child protective case is dismissed. Mom and dad were not happy that the child protective case was dismissed. They wanted their day in secret court, where they could be vindicated by the evidence. Deprived of their chance for a trial, they at least wanted the DHHS record scrubbed of any reference to “substantiated” abuse of one child and “indicated” abuse of another. Eventually, they got the DHHS to concede that the findings were unwarranted and to remove them from the record. The kid remains ill, but he’s home with mom, dad, and his siblings.

Mom’s and dad’s efforts to keep their kid from the State’s clutches and clean up their record with the DHHS cost them $240,000 in legal and medical expert fees. That’s one big reason why this case probably provides the only such glimpse into DHHS abuse of parents the public will ever see. These things take place under shroud of secrecy; the burden of proof for all but native Americans is only more likely than not; and the DHHS are in their power and control wheelhouse dealing with the people they usually deal with – poor people. They seldom take on middle-class parents, let alone people with $240,000.00 to burn to beat back the DHHS and its experts, and a desire to go public with the whole sordid mess. So, here’s your glimpse into an otherwise secret world – a world of “from the government, here to help,” with all the finesse of a wrecking ball. May you never find them offering a helping hand to you or yours.


Need I say it again?  This post provides information.  It is not legal advice and is not to be taken as legal advice by anyone.