On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Child Custody on Thursday, March 21, 2013
A young mother of five children, one disabled, was sentenced this week to sixteen years in prison after her conviction for felony injury to a child in a Dallas, Texas court. The child, a Type I (juvenile) diabetic, died from complications from the disease. Investigation revealed that health care providers had persistent concerns about the ability of the mother to properly monitor the child’s diabetes, both in terms of daily insulin injections and proper diet. The child was found dead in her bed with a bag of candy and a partially eaten cupcake.
While this very sad case may seem extreme, in reality our courts regularly confront cases of medical neglect. Ironically, when the child at issue has parents under a custodial order, the child has a better chance of proper intervention because of the nature of the adversarial system and the ability of Family Services to take action more quickly.
In the Dallas case, the father had only recently separated from the mother, and that allowed child services to investigate the care of the children. Unfortunately, their review came too late and too light.
Doctors have a duty to place hotline calls in cases of abuse or neglect. A parent who feeds sugary sweets to a diabetic on a regular basis should certainly qualify. In the Dallas case, the doctors did not have evidence other than lax delivery of weekly blood levels – but should that not have triggered further investigation?
The reality is that states take a more hands-off approach for intact families; had the parties been in the middle of a custody proceeding or already under the watchful eye of the legal system, the child could have been saved – taken into protective custody and put in foster care if necessary.
In Missouri, a party who observes the type of neglect in this case can hotline the parents and open an investigation. If Family Services does not resolve the issue and the party has lingering concerns, petitioning a court for guardianship remains an option, or seeking the assistance of the prosecuting attorney.
Parties to a custody proceeding should know that the type of medical neglect in this case – failure to properly monitor diet and treatment for juvenile diabetes – can cause a parent to lose custodial rights. Does that mean any improper diet could trigger a custody modification? No, but if under the circumstances that improper diet has serious medical consequences a reasonable parent would address, those changes could so negatively impair the health and welfare of the child that a change in custody could be required.
If you have further questions about medical neglect and child custody, contact us – we can help.