NOLA Case Shows Need for Reforms

“The parents here did exactly what medical professionals ask a new parent to do: if you find something strange with your infant, report it.” So wrote New Orleans Juvenile Judge Mark Doherty in a recent case that nevertheless put two innocent young parents on the state’s child abuse registry.

Specifically, new mother Tess Strickland noticed a bruise on her newborn’s head that occurred simply from adjusting his head on a breastfeeding pillow. So she contacted the pediatrician and began noting any such concerning marks.

A blood test came back negative, but the concerned mother continued to monitor until the baby’s eight-week checkup. That’s when the pediatrician asked if there were still marks.

When Tess told her there were and shared what she had observed, the doctor’s response was horrifying. “She said she had to report us for child abuse,” the mother told local news station WDSU in this report.

Child Abuse System “A Sham”

The next day, DCFS came to the family home with two New Orleans detectives. A little later, after interviewing the parents separately, the detectives left, having found no abuse.

But DCFS plays by a different rulebook all their own.

They instructed the family to have the baby checked by a child abuse pediatrician, which the family did. And that doctor concluded, because there was “no known etiology,” that the bruising was caused by abuse.

“No known etiology” simply means they don’t know what caused the bruising. And since they can’t point to anything else, they conclude it must have been abuse. It is a diagnosis not based on the evidence, but literally based on the lack of any evidence.

The next day, based on this “diagnosis,” DCFS took the baby away.

Yet, only days before, an ER physician had named a reason for the bruising: capillary fragility, a condition that renders an infant prone to bruise too easily.

A week later, the couple were before the judge quoted at the beginning of this article, who ordered the child returned home. “There is no physical or testimonial evidence in this case against the parents,” he wrote in his opinion, adding, “This is a system which borders on a sham.”

Innocent—Yet on the List?

Unfortunately for this young family, though, their nightmare was not over. Instead, two months after their child was returned to them, they received a letter from DCFS notifying them that their names were being added to the state’s registry of child abusers.

It’s “like a nightmare that won’t end,” the father, Chris, told WDSU in their report.

But it is all too common.

Yes, even when the parents have been found “not guilty” of any criminal charges. Even when the family court judge orders the baby returned, declaring that the home is safe.

The system is deeply flawed, preventing most parents from getting any kind of legal due process until after their name has been added to the roll.

At least in Louisiana, it looks like their names are not added until their appeal is waived or concluded. Chris and Tess won their appeal, so their names never actually went on the list. But this is not the norm in every state. And the harm to families is real.

Attorney Andrew Brown of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is an ally of the Parental Rights Foundation, working together to bring reform in this area. Andrew was also quoted in the WDSU report: “When you separate a child from their family, you are guaranteed to cause trauma to that child, even if it’s just for a week.”

Addressing the Problem

That’s why we drafted a model bill to provide due process before a parent’s name goes on the list. It’s why we introduced that model to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2019 and secured their endorsement of it.

It’s why we supported the work of Brown’s TPPF to bring that model to fruition in Texas during the 2021 session. And it’s why we’re gearing up to introduce similar legislation in additional states in 2022.

If you know a lawmaker willing to champion such a bill, send them the model (available online here) as a starting point. Then email and let me know who you’ve reached out to (and, ideally, any response you receive).

You can also aid our effort with a donation to here. Partner with us to protect families and establish the right of due process in this otherwise “sham” of a process.

Together, we can protect parents like Tess and Chris from going on child abuse registries. Innocent parents have enough to worry about just raising their children; they don’t belong on abuse registries for doing nothing wrong.


Michael Ramey
Executive Director