DCF Failure to Thrive Allegations
What Is the Definition of “Failure To Thrive”?
Failure to thrive is when a child is struggling to maintain their growth or is not growing at the same speed as other children their age. In other words, failure to thrive is when a child is not growing properly. Failure to thrive can cause emotional, social, and psychological problems for the child which can impact their growth.
It can cause psychological, emotional, and social problems in a family which will negatively impact the child’s growth. Failure to Thrive is a form of child abuse or neglect, at least according to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MA DCF).
When DCF gets a report describing a child’s failure to thrive, they will only investigate the case if the child’s parents or caretakers were responsible for the child’s failure to thrive. Understanding the signs and facts of Failure to Thrive can help you better discern what is happening if and when you encounter it.
What Does DCF Consider “Child Neglect” in Massachusetts?
Neglect means: “Failure by a caregiver, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care, including malnutrition or failure to thrive; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition.”
What Does DCF Consider “Child Abuse” in Massachusetts?
Abuse means: “the non-accidental commission of any act by a caretaker upon a child under age 18 which causes, or creates a substantial risk of physical or emotional injury, or constitutes a sexual offense under the laws of the Commonwealth or any sexual contact between a caretaker and a child under the care of that individual. Abuse is not dependent upon location (i.e., abuse can occur while the child is in an out-of-home or in-home setting.)”
DCF considers any one of the following to be a “physical injury”:
- Fracture of a bone
- Subdural hematoma
- Addiction to drugs at birth
- Impairment of any organ
- Soft tissue swelling
- Skin bruising (which depends on factors such as the child’s age, circumstances under which the injury occurred, and the number and location of the bruises)
- Failure to thrive
DCF considers an “emotional injury” to be: “impairment to or disorder of the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by observable and substantial reduction in the child’s ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior”.
What Are The Symptoms of Failure To Thrive?
Children grow steadily until it stagnates at some point. To be in the failure to thrive category, a child’s weight must fall below the third percentile on the standard growth chart. A sudden change in the growth rate is a sign that a child has failure to thrive.
Children who have Failure to Thrive show symptoms like:
- Weight loss/Weight gain
- Stiff muscles
- Lack of eye contact
The symptom descriptors are vague and non-specific. Imagine being accused of Failure to Thrive for having a “fussy” baby. DCF can use these conditions against you, and fill their report with the term “Failure to Thrive”. Then DCF has enough “justification” to support allegations of neglect. So, be on top of your child’s care. Speak to their pediatricians, dentists, or therapists and get all their medical records. When you do that, you are showing DCF that you are invested in and monitoring your child’s health.
Failure to thrive should not be self-diagnosed. It is important to take your child to a doctor before self-diagnosing.
Can a Child Have Failure to Thrive without Abuse or Neglect?
Yes, it is possible for a child to be failing to thrive without any abuse or neglect; it can happen because of underlying medical problems. It may have nothing to do with environmental factors or poor nutrition. Any medical inconvenience can result in delayed growth. Doctors measure the rate of a child’s growth and determine whether the child is failing to thrive due to external factors.
What Causes a Child’s Failure to Thrive?
There are many legitimate causes for failure to thrive. The most common way a child fails to thrive is when they are not getting enough nutrients and calories from food. This happens in cases where parents fail to care for, or withhold resources such as food, and medication.
Factors that contribute to Failure to Thrive allegations are:
- Bad eating habits
- Physical abuse
- Mental Health Issues
- Verbal Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
Can a Child Have Failure To Thrive Without Abuse or Neglect?
A child can experience a “failure to thrive” without going through any abuse or neglect. When a child has underlying medical problems, it can cause a failure to thrive. Some of these medical conditions are:
- Low birth weight
- Defect in a vital organ
- Chronic infections
- Blood and metabolic disorders
- Nervous system/brain damage
- Hormone deficiency
- Cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and Turner syndrome
- Gastrointestinal problems (indigestion, gastroenteritis, acid reflux.)
It is important to closely monitor your child’s health so that DCF does not accuse you for abusing or neglecting your child when they show signs of failure to thrive.
Does DCF Always See “Failure to Thrive” as Child Abuse or Neglect?
DCF may consider failure to thrive to be neglect, but not always.
In Massachusetts, neglect means “Failure by a caregiver, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care, including malnutrition or failure to thrive; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition.”
DCF can claim that you are neglecting your child by not giving them the necessary nutrients or calories that they need in order to grow at a regular, healthy rate like other children their age. But because only a doctor can diagnose failure to thrive, and because there are factors outside of a parent’s control which can contribute to the condition, DCF can’t accuse you for child abuse or neglect in every failure to thrive situation.
When Will Parents Face DCF Allegations for Failure to Thrive?
DCF will use any sign of neglect to report false allegations against you for failure to thrive. Anyone who is a mandated reporter (such as a doctor, teacher, or police officer) has to call DCF when they think there may be a possible case of child abuse or neglect. So, if a mandated reporter sees a child seems like they have a failure to thrive, they will report it just in case it is a child abuse or neglect situation. However, these people don’t know the full story. If you tell DCF that you do not see any threat or issue, DCF can use that against you by labeling you as an unfit parent.
How To Fight False DCF Failure to Thrive Allegations?
DCF will probably make it difficult for you to tell your story, especially when they think you may be guilty. But there is always a way to make sure you fight DCF and not lose your children. You must address DCF’s concerns. Make sure to read all of the documents you receive from DCF, speak with collaterals, and disprove the claims that DCF is making against you. Another important thing you can do is hire a lawyer. It is important to make sure you hire a lawyer you trust to take on your case and help you win. Hiring a lawyer will help prepare you and get you through anything DCF throws your way.
Are there any MA DCF Cases?
The Massachusetts DCF recently had a case where a 14 year-old died because of a Failure to Thrive allegations. Four years prior to his death, DCF removed him and his brothers from his father due to abuse and neglect. From the time that he was returned to his father and his death, the father abused and starved him. The child also barely attended school. Later that year, he was found unresponsive and rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A report made by the Office of the Child Advocate showed that the children had been removed from their father’s home four times for the same reasons. While the report made clear that this father and his girlfriend took advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak and avoided DCF at all costs, the system failed to protect this boy and his brothers from a dangerous home environment.
DCF Failure to Thrive Case Law: The Adoption of Bjorn (2013)
Bjorn was born in April 2006, and his sister, Jane, was born in September 2008. In November 2009, a 51A report was filed against Bjorn and Jane’s parents. That was when the Department of Children and Families came into the family’s life. Someone told DCF that the children would come into the daycare with not enough food, but the mother would not let the daycare staff feed the children. The reporter also began to notice that the children were getting sick when they were at the daycare.
The mother refused to speak to the DCF investigator, and she would not allow the DCF social worker to see her children. Mother also refused intervention services from the daycare, including advice from a nutritionist and available play therapy for Bjorn.
In May 2010, Jane’s pediatrician diagnosed her with failure to thrive. The mother disagreed with this diagnosis. A month later, in June 2010, the mother took Jane to the Boston Medical Center Grow Clinic for Children. There, a second doctor diagnosed Jane with failure to thrive. The second doctor recommended an emergency hospitalization, as it looked like Jane’s was extremely unhealthy. The mother refused to believe the diagnosis. She insisted that Jane was just “a little dehydrated”. The hospital then called DCF, and DCF took temporary custody of Jane. DCF looked into Bjorn’s medical records too, since DCF must determine the safety of all the children in a reported family. They found concerns in Bjorn’s documents, and took temporary custody of him too.
By the end of June, the hospital released the children. DCF put the children in the temporary custody of their maternal aunt. The aunt had temporary custody of the children for about 3 months. DCF took custody of the children again when they found out that the father was taking the kids to see their mother, unsupervised. DCF put both children into foster home. Later, DCF had to separate Bjorn from Jane because of aggressive behavior. His behavior so disturbing that DCF put him in the hospital. The kids remained where they were until the trial.
When the parents spoke with the court investigator, the mother stated that she did not want to participate in DCF services. She also said that because of her own training, she knows that the doctor’s diagnoses are inaccurate. The father said he did not want custody of the children. He did not think he could properly take care of them.
In October 2011, the judge ordered a “termination of parental rights”. The judge felt that the mother should not have parental rights over her children. The judge felt this way because of the medical proof. When Jane was hospitalized back in June 2010, she was about 2 years old and weighed only 16.8 pounds, the weight of a seven month old child. When Bjorn was 4 years old, he weighed the same as an average 1-2 year old. The doctor diagnosed both children with failure to thrive. Regarding Bjorn, the doctor stated that he was under the growth curve, nutritionally wasted, and had permanently stopped growing. The doctor stated that Jane was “stunted” and “wasted” upon being admitted to the hospital. Jane was apparently on the “borderline of morality”.
The mother’s mental health issues were also a problem for DCF. She had depression and was also delusional. The mother kept thinking that people were poisoning her children. Because of these mental health problems, DCF The judge ended up deciding that the mother was unfit to care for her children.
How Does DCF Make False Allegations of Failure to Thrive?
DCF makes false allegations of Failure to Thrive by making a mountain out of a molehill. The Department can use any sign of neglect to argue that a child has a Failure to Thrive. DCF has teams of experts and medical professionals supporting them. They can easily justify claims that a child’s condition should be investigated for abuse or neglect.
Doctors, physicians and pediatricians are all mandated reporters. They must report to DCF all suspicions of medical neglect or other contributors to failure to thrive. Medical professionals are not always right, however, and might not have the full picture.
Not every allegation of failure to thrive is true, however. DCF can believe there is a serious threat of abuse or neglect to the child. If you think there is no issue, DCF can use that to present you as an unfit or unaware parent. The last thing you want to do when facing allegations of Failure to Thrive is to express your belief that there is nothing wrong and the allegations are false.
Just giving DCF all your child’s medical records will show that your child is happy, healthy and well cared-for.
What is the Best Way to Fight False DCF Allegations of Failure to Thrive in Massachusetts?
If you are facing false allegations of child abuse or neglect for failure to thrive, you must understand that it is very difficult to fight DCF without a proper plan. The Department uses “Failure to Thrive” as a blanket term, which means many different medical conditions can be “Failure to Thrive” in DCF’s eyes. You may not even find out exactly what concerns DCF was investigating until after they support the allegations.
The only way to beat these kinds of false allegations is by fully addressing DCF’s concerns. This will take a lot of effort; it takes a village to raise a child, and in the same way it takes a valiant group effort to get DCF out of your life forever without losing your children. You would have to carefully analyze all of DCF documents regarding your case, speaking with collaterals, and disproving the claims DCF is building their case on. Sometimes, unfortunately, DCF makes it difficult for parents to properly tell their story.
So, hiring an expert legal counsel to address the Department’s concerns will help you present your truth. Having a lawyer will help you regain control over your life. They will give you the support you need; they will prepare you and your children for when DCF visits, they will help you gather all the relevant documents you need, give you a step-by-step guided plan, and give you the right legal advice to solve your DCF problems.
Kevin Seaver is a trusted Massachusetts DCF lawyer specialized in DCF law since 1991.