Leading child advocate calls for trained, respected, funded legal defenders for parents

The Importance of Family Defense  

By Martin Guggenheim,  ABA Family Law Quarterly Volume 48, No. 4 (Winter 2015) pp. 597-607

This article describes the growing field of “Family Defense,” which involves lawyers and other advocates working on behalf of parents or other family members whose children are at risk of being placed in court-ordered foster care. Although lawyers have been doing this work for several decades, a national movement to consolidate and enhance the field’s status in the legal profession is less than a decade old. Based in the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law, this movement’s purpose is to achieve procedural and social justice for all families involved with child welfare systems, through legal, legislative, and policy advocacy. Above all else, it seeks to ensure that every parent who is in jeopardy of having a child removed from his or her care by a child welfare agency is able to secure excellent legal representation during the entire length of the court process. This article explains the importance of the field and how it differs from criminal defense. Finally, it offers some insight into why the field is relatively unknown in the legal profession despite the important work that it does.

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Father lost visitation for trying to stop psychotic torture of child in #Munchausen by proxy case. Which part of that story is the most shocking?

You may have read about Christopher, a Dallas-area 8-year-old who has been, without exaggeration, sadistically tortured his whole life, completely robbed of a normal life, in an extreme case of "Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy." A dashing and lighthearted name for a horrible, sadistic form of lifelong child abuse; they really should give it a name as serious and awful as it is. It has many vague and forgettable official names, none of which are remotely as ghastly as they ought to be.

Christopher’s mother treated him as if he was deathly ill from his birth until she was arrested last week: feeding tubes, oxygen tubes, heart tubes, hospice, do-not-resuscitate orders, wheelchairs, 13 surgeries, hundreds of hospital visits. She tried to subject him to a lung transplant. But actually, he was always completely healthy, except for life-threatening blood infections from the tubes. 

But what's really more shocking: that there are a few psychotic child-torturers out there, or that the family courts and the medical system protect and enable them, even when the children's fathers discover the truth and try to rescue them?

When Christoper was three, his father went to family court to make her stop, and instead, he lost all visitation. He says the judge refused to look at evidence and condemned him for his refusal to accept that Christopher was dying. Here's what the local paper says now about his court battles:

For years, Crawford said he tried to convince Dallas County family court judges that his son was not sick but they believed Bowen, who would eventually claim that their son was dying, initially from a rare genetic disorder and later from cancer.

Crawford said a Dallas County judge even blocked him in late 2012 from visiting his son, who was then 3.

“It was always the same story: Christopher is dying. The father doesn’t need to be around because he doesn’t know to take care of him,” a tearful Bowen would tell the judges, according to Crawford. “... Every time I went to court, they made me feel like I was the worst human ever.”

The 34-year-old woman is in Dallas County Jail in lieu of $150,000 bond. Her court-appointed attorney did not return a message seeking comment Friday but Bowen denied the allegations last month to CPS investigators.

Crawford said he is grateful that Bowen stands accused of wrongdoing, but remains frustrated that it took so long.

“It’s horrible for my son, or any kid because obviously my son is not the only one that has had to go through this type of torture,” Crawford said. “The system has to be exposed — all the weaknesses that are in the system — because the kids don’t deserve that.”

The allegations against Bowen fit the model for what is known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a disorder in which a person exaggerates or creates medical symptoms to gain attention.

Convincing family court judges that a mother may be medically abusing her child is often a challenge, experts say.

Even in 2017, such medical child abuse is still relatively unknown when compared to other types of maltreatment and “so many court judges are inexperienced in this realm,” said Dr. Marc Feldman, an Alabama psychiatrist who is a national expert and author on Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

“I encounter tone-deaf family court judges a lot,” Feldman said. “They, like most members of the public, can’t let themselves believe that an apparently-loving mother could engage in medical child abuse.

“They are used to seeing gross evidence of physical or sexual abuse — bleeding, bruising, broken bones — and don’t seem to respond to the more subtle indications of medical child abuse.”

Feldman said such judges also tend to treat doctors as “gods who are incapable of error, not realizing that these abusive mothers doctor-shop until they find someone who will acquiesce to their demands.”

Crawford said he recognizes he made mistakes during his fight in the family courts.

Several times, he represented himself — something he now regrets. He said while Bowen seemed to draw on the judge’s sympathy with her claims and tears, he only angered them with his insistence that Bowen was lying.

“I’m not a criminal. I’ve never been before a judge for anything. Of course, I’d seen “Judge Judy” but I thought Judge Judy was fake,” Crawford said. “To see real life Judge Judys, that was something new to me. I’m like, they’re allowed to talk to me like this?”

Though he had court-ordered visitation initially, Crawford said Bowen would frequently cancel at the last minute, claiming Christopher was too sick. She’d tell judges that Crawford didn’t know how to properly care for their seriously ill son, further delaying his visits until he could take court-ordered classes in things like CPR and G-tube care.

Until recently, Crawford’s last visit with his son had been Dec. 7, 2012, when he took the boy’s great-grandmother to Kaylene’s Dallas apartment to see Christopher.

“We went to court two weeks later and Kaylene told the judge that Christopher went into cardiac arrest due to my visit,” Crawford said.

He says at a subsequent hearing, [the judge] said she was taking away Crawford’s visitations with his son since he refused to believe the boy was dying.

“She asked Kaylene, ‘Would you mind if his father sees him one more time before he passes away?’ but Kaylene said no,” Crawford said. ...

In January 2014, he hired a new attorney and filed for custody of Christopher.

When they went before [the judge], Bowen cried and claimed Christopher, then 4, was in a coma.

“ [The judge] immediately stated she’d heard this case and she can’t believe we would drag Kaylene back to court when the child is dying,” Crawford recalled. “She wouldn’t hear the new evidence that included doctor reports that Christopher was not ill.”

... More than three years later and even after Bowen’s arrest, Crawford is still fighting — this time trying to get Christopher out of foster care and home with him.

He said CPS has expressed reservations about moving the boy out of foster care because Christopher doesn’t know his father very well. Never mind, Crawford points out, that Christopher doesn’t know his foster family well either.

“That’s taxpayer money. Why spend all that extra money when he has a father that has been there from day one, that’s been fighting for this?” Crawford said.

Christopher had 323 doctor visits and 13 major surgeries. Here’s why his mom was arrested