Boots & Sabers

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0819, 29 Feb 20

Reporting Child Abuse is a Tricky Business

This is really a minefield for parents.

The hospital’s guidance advised doctors to notify the Child Protection Program of even small bruises found on infants who are not yet “cruising,” or pulling themselves up on furniture. Such bruises, the guidance warned, are “sentinel” injuries that can signal possible child abuse. Knox helped to write the policy, basing it on “national guidelines and practice,” Russell said.

The Siebolds offered several innocent explanations for Leo’s bruises. Perhaps they came from Leo’s “Army crawling” over toys on the wooden floor of the family home — or from Leo’s struggle with Brenna Siebold and ER staff during the examination a day earlier. Knox and physician assistant Amanda Palm rejected those theories. The hospital reported the bruises to authorities as “unexplained.”

Mount Horeb Police officers Susan Zander and Jenn Schaaf interviewed the Siebolds at the hospital; one officer knew Brenna Siebold personally. They quickly discounted the allegations, writing in a one-paragraph police report that the bruises were “caused by medical staff.”

After a two-month investigation, the Dane County Department of Human Services also concluded there was no evidence of abuse.

Minor bruises could spark even more investigations under a bill introduced in 2019 by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin. It would create a $10 million demonstration program on how to use “sentinel injuries” in children 7 months and younger, including minor bruises, to detect — and prevent — child abuse and fatalities.

Child abuse is terrible and everyone (almost) wants to see it discovered, reported, prosecuted, and prevented. This creates a huge incentive for people – especially medical professionals – to report even their smallest suspicions to law enforcement. And because child abuse is so horrendous, even the accusation can ruin the lives of parents and pull apart families.

The problem is that some kids get hurt is weird ways, some kids bruise easily, and some kids lie. Even if the authorities never prove that there was child abuse or actually conclude that there was no child abuse, the accusation will still linger. People will doubt. Employers will wonder. Family members will question. Nobody wants to be the person who did not report suspected child abuse if there actually is child abuse. And nobody wants to let their kids go to little Timmy’s house when his dad is an accused child abuser.

I don’t have any good answers. The amount of scrutiny for child abuse is appropriate given our collective concern for the welfare of children. But once that accusation is made, it can’t be retracted even if it is disproven. Be very careful before you accuse.


0819, 29 February 2020


  1. dad29

    A big part of the problem is that pediatricians in “corporate” (read:  hospital/medical-group owned) practices do not have the time to get to know the families; they’re given X minutes/patient OR ELSE.  We were fortunate; our ped’n was a family friend and was not part of one of those monolithic “groups.”

    There is an ongoing case here in Milwaukee pitting Childrens’ Hospital against a (former) member of their ER staff.  It should be interesting; the DA is going to trial, but several abuse expert MD’s/PA’s/NP’s think the “abuse” claim is bogus.


  2. jjf

    And your ped’n and his independent office are long gone, right Dad29?

    What does “get to know the family” really mean?  You get some extra privilege when something looks questionable?

  3. dad29

    Yup.  That’s it, Jiffy.

  4. dad29

    I think I understand why Owen kicked your ass out of here a few years back.

  5. jjf

    What are you worried about, Dad29?  It’s OK to hit kids, right?

  6. Mar

    Yes, jjf, it is ok to spank kids as long as it doesn’t go overboard.

  7. jjf

    Clearly Mar, you don’t want to leave a mark, right?  Because then there might be consequences, and we can’t have consequences for grown men, can we?

  8. Merlin

    Geez, Eddie, why you always gotta be like that?

  9. Mark Hoefert

    It’s the system wanting to exercise an “abundance of caution.”

    Thought process is that it is better that the system misidentifies something innocent as abuse, as opposed to not correctly identifying actual abuse.

    One outcome – parents will delay seeking medical treatment until any evidence of bruising is gone.

    Another outcome – parents will become even more protective and cautious about exposing their children to any potential physical contact with anything.

    And watch for “mission creep” – 1st this is applied to infants, after that it gets applied to toddlers.

    Parents will have to treat their babies like calves are prepared for veal.  Very limited physical movement.

    As they become toddlers, the kids will have to be dressed in bubble wrap and not allowed any kind of physical contract with anybody and anything.





  10. jjf

    Mark, I think you slipped on your own slippery slope.

    You think the professionals haven’t thought of the issues you raise?  Haven’t been thinking about them for decades?

  11. dad29

    Geez, Eddie, why you always gotta be like that?

    Now YOU know why Owen kicked his ass outta here…..

  12. jjf

    Come on, Dad29, explain yourself.  You think “your” doc was a family friend, so therefore if he saw something suspicious, you’d get a free pass because he’s supposed to think you’re not that kind of guy and therefore it shouldn’t be considered?

    And this was a long time ago, right, and this doc doesn’t exist and/or no longer exists as a solo practitioner?

    And that your physical discipline never “went overboard” as Mar put it?

    Mark, why is it “mission creep” to continue to look for signs of abuse as a kid gets older?

  13. jjf

    Or here’s another idea, Dad29…  can you tell us about your experiences with detecting and reporting sexual abuse in the Catholic church?

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