Professionals may ask “why do I need training on this subject? We never get any of these cases.” Well, you don’t see what you don’t know, especially when it comes to this form of abuse.
In Texas, these cases will normally come in to CPS as a medical neglect case. When assigned to a CPS investigator, the investigator will see a seemingly doting mom taking her child to the doctor continuously and simply close the case in most instances. It is not uncommon in Texas to have this abuse reported to CPS on multiple occasions before any investigative action is taken. Why? Texas CPS investigators, much like CPS investigators in almost every other state in the U.S., receive no mandated training on this abuse. Nothing. The investigators may literally not know what this abuse is, much less how to investigate the abuse, when they are assigned a case.
Police are similarly ill-prepared to handle this abuse. The Elisabeth Hunnicutt case is a prime example of police inaction. The father in that case had to fight for 6 months simply to get a police offense report generated. When the case was finally filed with the DA’s Office, it was filed as an accidental overdose. The detective couldn’t wrap his head around the conduct, which is surprisingly common. Child abuse detectives are very busy people. When you throw a case at them that they don’t understand, have received zero training on how to investigate, and will take an inordinate amount of time, human nature can take over and the detective may simply dismiss the case without investigating the crime, perhaps classifying it as a CPS issue.
Meanwhile, the criminal offender is enabled when reports are dismissed. This reinforces their belief that they are so good at deception, they cannot be caught. But this confidence in the offender provides a huge investigative advantage to those investigators prepared and motivated to hold these criminal offenders accountable for the abuse they are inflicting on their victims.
A lack of training not only affects police and CPS, it is also prevalent among criminal prosecutors, family law attorneys, and both family court and criminal court judges. Cases like Julie Conley and Kimberly Sue Austin demonstrate how bad family court judges can be on this abuse.
Conley’s child suffered life altering injuries from poisoning after return by a family court judge against CPS request and in opposition to a psychologist’s testimony that the child was in danger of further abuse if returned. In Austin, the child was also returned against CPS advice and despite testimony by a psychologist that the victim was in danger of death if returned to the criminal offender. Sure enough, less than a year after return, the victim was dead. Austin was then caught poisoning her second child with insulin, tried, and convicted.
I personally have had a criminal district attorney ask me if I expected her to criminally charge the doctors for the abuse. That’s how little understanding she had of the topic. These cases can go wrong at multiple steps along the way. Removal and a separation period are vital to show that the child is only sick in the care of the criminal offender. If a family court judge returns the child quickly, the criminal case can fall apart.
In the Danita Tutt case in Tarrant County, Texas, the family court judge from Johnson County just couldn’t believe a church going mother would commit this abuse. He basically returned the victim to the criminal offender. Miraculously, the criminal case went forward and Danita Tutt, the criminal offender, was convicted of attempted murder and injury to a child – serious bodily injury. During the guilt /innocence phase of trial, the criminal offender was sleeping in the same house as the victim every night.
Currently, I am the only provider (that I am aware of) that teaches not just WHAT this is, but HOW to investigate these criminal acts of abuse. Is your team prepared? Do you even know where to start? I offer half day, full day, and two day training on this abuse. I have investigated or heavily consulted on 32 reports of this abuse, leading to 11 arrests with 7 convictions. 4 cases are pending trial.
I recently published “Investigating Medical Child Abuse” in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin journal (August, 2018) and co-authored the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s “Munchausen by Proxy: Clinical and Case Management Guidance,” a best practice approach for almost every discipline that touches this abuse. My cases have been featured in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, on the CNN website, and on the Headline News Network’s series “Something is Killing Me” (season 1, episode 1).