Debski family black and white

The Debski Family.

by Terri LaPoint
Health Impact News

Innocent Parents’ Lives Turned Upside Down by CPS

The parents did nothing wrong, yet their lives were turned upside down. They were falsely accused of abuse when they took their baby girl to the doctor for an accidental injury. Later, they were compared to “dolphins caught in a net.” A child abuse doctor at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital (HDVCH) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, actually thanked them for “taking a hard hit for the greater good” of catching abused and neglected children. They were innocent. Bethany and Andrew Debski did not go to the doctor looking to take a hit. They were concerned about their baby, and wanted to make sure she was OK. They never expected the nightmare turn of events that would arise out of seeking help. They are victims of a disturbing trend in which parents are presumed guilty until proven innocent. In the world of Child Protective Services, the Constitution appears to be meaningless, and children and parents are caught up in a net that was originally intended to catch abusive parents who beat, torment, and molest their children. Increasingly, good parents whose children happen to get sick or injured accidentally are being caught up in this very costly net, causing even greater injury and trauma. How many families will be caught up in the net before the system gets more efficient nets, ones that don’t entrap the guiltless?

Routine Doctor Visit Leads to Nightmare Experience

The Debskis’ saga began on a Thursday night in early April. Bethany was at work at a neighborhood restaurant, and Andrew was reading a bedtime story to his little girls, Clarity, 9 months, and Sadie, 5. Clarity fell backwards off her sister’s bed, landing on her head on the hardwood floor. At the time, there were no apparent injuries, but he called his wife anyway.  Because Clarity was acting fine, Bethany stayed at work, and came home at midnight. The baby showed no symptoms, and went to sleep as normal. When her mother got home, the baby woke up to breastfeed, as usual. Bethany noted a “squishy bump,” not a goose-egg bump, on the top of her head where she hit the floor, but that was the only thing that was different. They called the nurse-line at HDVCH, and were advised to keep a watch on her, checking with her doctor the following day. Their physician wasn’t able to get them in until Monday. No one they spoke with seemed overly concerned, and Clarity’s behavior was normal. When the doctor examined her, he didn’t seem concerned. However, after consulting with a colleague, he scheduled an appointment for the Debskis to take Clarity to Metro hospital for a CT scan. Several hours later, their doctor called and said that the CT scan showed a skull fracture. Though he assured them that the baby was improving, they needed to go to a different hospital, HDVCH, for an MRI, he told them. When they arrived, the MRI was never done. Instead, the staff did full-body x-rays on Clarity; and it quickly became apparent that they were looking for signs of possible abuse. The baby was admitted to the hospital, but no treatment was ordered. Bethany lay down on the bed to nurse Clarity.

CPS Harasses Parents – Takes Away Breast-fed Baby from Nursing Mother

That was when four police officers, a social worker, and others came into the room. They took pictures of the baby, and interrogated both parents separately. They did saliva drug tests on both Andrew and Bethany. Andrew’s test fell apart into pieces in his mouth, and then fell on the floor when he took it out of his mouth. The CPS worker put it in the bag anyway. Then, she informed them that they had a petition to take custody of Clarity, and that Andrew and Bethany would have to leave the hospital. Bethany’s parents were called to stay with the baby. CPS also sent Sadie to stay with the other set of grandparents.

False Tests and Accusations

Bethany’s drug test came back negative. Andrew had informed the CPS worker that he was on medication for a health condition. He expected that it would show up in the test. However, the test failed to show the properly prescribed medication that was definitely in his system, yet showed positive for cocaine, a drug he has never used. Later drug tests showed the truth, but he stood accused based on a test that had fallen on the ground, one which showed both a false positive and a false negative. The family was in turmoil, confused, hurt, and angry. A police officer drove Bethany home. According to Bethany, he assured them “that it would be over soon, and that situations like this, unfortunately, happen to many great parents that he has witnessed.”

Parents Found Innocent

Debski family color

The Debski Family.

It did eventually get straightened out. After 14 hours of the exclusively breastfed baby being separated from her mother, Bethany was allowed to be with Clarity. At that point, officials determined that she wasn’t home when the alleged “abuse” happened, so she could be around her children again. CPS decided that she and the children needed to move in with her parents, while Andrew stayed at the family home. The neurologist at the hospital had assured the Debskis, before all the chaos happened, that Clarity was fine and that he expected only improvement. It was only later in a hearing that the Debskis learned that the child abuse physician had reported that her injuries could be life threatening if she were discharged from the hospital. At the June 19 hearing, another doctor reported that Clarity’s injuries were consistent with the accident that happened. The petition for custody by the state was dismissed as unsubstantiated.

Fighting to Clear Name Wrongly Accused of Child Abuse

For six weeks, an innocent family suffered incredible turmoil, because they were “like dolphins caught in a net,” one designed to catch abusive parents, not parents of a child who has an accident. Yet, even then their troubles were not over. Andrew’s name was placed on the National Registry for Child Abuse and Neglect. It has only been last month that his name was finally cleared, after months of phone calls and letters. Finally, everything has been expunged from the records. After the Debskis sent numerous letters to Congressmen and the state office of the CPS, they received a phone call from the local CPS last week, acknowledging that mistakes were made in the handling of their case and apologizing to them. They told Bethany that they are working to repair the problems within their system. A breastfeeding baby was separated from her mother for more than 12 hours while the system figured out that mother hadn’t done anything wrong. Bethany was also accused of “not practicing safe sleep,” because the social worker walked in on her lying down next to her baby as she nursed her to sleep. Two sets of grandparents and a small child were awakened in the middle of the night while CPS assigned everyone to the places they wanted them.

Hospital Bills for Unwanted Treatments Ordered by CPS

To add insult to injury, the hospital that falsely accused them has billed the Debskis for the full-body scan that was ordered because of abuse allegations, as well as for the overnight hospital stay. Clarity was not even treated during the hospital stay. Bethany says that some on the hospital staff seemed more concerned with building a case than they were about treating Clarity’s injuries. HDVCH continues to deny any wrongdoing. Since Health Impact News began investigating this story, the hospital has called Bethany and offered to cut the bill in half, due to “miscommunication.” The Debskis are still expected to pay the remainder of the bill.

Innocent People Have Lives Admittedly Destroyed by CPS for the “Greater Good”

The Debskis are sharing their story to show how innocent people can get horribly caught up in the system. The power of CPS is virtually unchecked. In this cruel system, parents are guilty until proven innocent, and children pay the price. Bethany says, “Just because it is legal for them to act that way, does not make it right.” Though the child abuse doctor compares innocent parents like the Debskis to dolphins being caught in the net, they aren’t dolphins. They are people – parents who love their children and seek help for them when they are sick or injured. Hundreds of other innocent parents are caught up in this cruel net. Some of them never get free. There is something wrong with a system that believes that it is acceptable to destroy good families in the search for abusive families. The entity assigned to protect children from abuse has itself become an abusive tyrant.