Senate approves Morrish child abuse bill

Published 3:37 pm Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, is backing a measure for parents to request a second opinion in cases where they are suspected of child abuse.

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 109, and the House Civil Law Committee is scheduled to hear the bill Monday.

According to the measure, when a health care practitioner issues a mandatory report of child abuse or neglect, the parent or caretaker can pay for an independent medical exam. Both reports would be issued to the state Department of Children and Family Services.

“We want the children to be protected,” Morrish said. “But we may need to just look at other reports. We want all the available evidence for DCFS and the parents because they don’t have access to that.”

Background

The bill came about after Jerry and Amanda Spaetgens of Iota were wrongly accused of abusing their 3-month-old daughter, Calli, who died of sudden infant death syndrome in October 2011.

When the two found Calli unresponsive in her bed, Jerry, a respiratory therapist, called 911 and performed CPR on the infant. She was flown to a Lafayette hospital and placed on a ventilator.

At the hospital, Amanda noticed bleeding in her eyes, a condition a doctor said was the result of shaken baby syndrome. But other medical officials said the CPR and two shots of epinephrine to restart her heart may have caused retinal hemorrhaging.

The doctor’s opinion led to a nearly six-month investigation by state child protection agencies. While the Department of Children and Family Services was investigating, the Spaetgens were put under a “care plan,” preventing them from being alone with their two other children without adult supervision.

Bone scans on Calli and an autopsy showed no signs of abuse or neglect and suggested she died of SIDS. But the family could not go home until the coroner’s report was finished.

Amanda later found out from the coroner that the autopsy was turned over to the state two weeks after Calli’s death. The family returned home in March 2012.

Debate

John Wyble, executive director of Louisiana Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, told a Senate committee that the measure “creates additional layers of trauma to children who have been abused.”

“A second exam can be very traumatic,” he said. “The bill is well-intentioned, but we have to maintain focus and attention to the children.”

Morrish said that additional exams may include non-traumatizing ones like a computed tomography, or CT, scan or an X-ray.

“We’re not trying to protect child abuse,” he said. “We just want to provide a fair shake when parents are accused.”

Morrish said the bill could be amended during debate in the House.

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Staff Writer Doris Maricle contributed to this report.””

A bill authored by Sen. Dan ”Blade” Morrish R-Jennings seeks to prevent parents from being falsely accused of child abuse. Senate Bill 109 was inspired by the experiences of an Iota couple Jerry and Amanda Spaetgens