DCF Failure to Thrive Allegations
Failure To Thrive is when a child is not growing properly, or growing at a rate which is slower than other children their age. 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 is the Definition of 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 is the Definition of 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 Signs 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 exhibit Failure to Thrive have 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.
What Causes a Child’s Failure to Thrive?
There are many legitimate causes for failure to thrive. The most common way a child truly fails to thrive is when they are not consuming 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?
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.
A dietitian can assess your child’s food habits and determine what may cause their failure to thrive. Then they will recommend a new diet to adjust the child’s nutritional levels in order to catch up to normal levels. If the infant is still breastfeeding, a lactation specialist might get involved to address the problem.
A pediatrician can determine whether the infant’s failure to thrive is due to a medical condition. Because this diagnosis requires health information over time, it’s difficult to detect. These are the most common medical condition that results in organic failure to thrive:
- 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.
Have there Actually been parents who were accused of failure to thrive for their children?
Well, yes. There is a case, Commonwealth v. Robinson where a nineteen-year-old mother brought her 11-month-old child to Boston Children’s Hospital due to a significant decline in his weight. The hospital revealed that the child had dangerously high levels of sodium in his blood due to the formula he was being fed. The child died a week after his admission to the hospital, and the medical examiner determined the death “resulted from poisoning caused by massive salt intoxication”.
Two months later, a Suffolk County grand jury indicted the mother for manslaughter in connection with her son’s death. The evidence collected against her was adding salt to the formula she was giving the child, and suppressing formulas prepared by the hospital nurses.
The court determined Failure to Thrive as a result of “either an organic condition, such as a serious pediatric illness or from a nonorganic source, including the failure of the infant or child to receive adequate or proper food.” In this case, the child was failing to thrive because the parent added too much salt in her child’s formula.
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.
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.