Is It Time for A "Parent's Bill of Rights"?

I have recently been reflecting on the unfair treatment of many Michigan parents when they have a child in the hospital and are being actively investigated by the “Child Protection Team,” the Child Abuse Pediatrician, the CPS investigators and the police. For years, I have complained about the way unsuspecting parents are treated in the hospital setting.

While reading an article by Gary Lippman in the Florida Bar Journal (July/August 2017, Volume 91, NO 7) regarding the use of body cameras, I found a brief discussion of the so-called “Police Officer’s Bill of Rights.” What is most interesting about this is that there are special rights, not afforded to parents, which all Florida Police officers receive every time they are under investigation. Amongst the special rights given to police officers are:

  • They must be informed that they are under investigation.
  • They must be informed of the identity and position of every person involved in the investigation.
  • If there is to be any questioning, all of the questioning must be done by a single person.
  • They must be informed of the nature of the investigation before any questioning begins.
  • They must be informed of the identity of the persons making the complaint.
  • All identifiable witnesses must be interviewed before an investigating interview of the officer begins.
  • All evidence, including witness statements, must be made available to the suspect officer before any questioning commences.
  • The investigative interrogation must be audio recorded and the recording must be made available to the suspect officer within 72 hours.
  • The interviewing officer may not use offensive language, threats or promises of any kind during the interview.
  • The interview must be at a reasonable time of day, for a reasonable length of time and allow for amenities breaks and rest periods as necessary.
  • If the suspect officer is under arrest or likely to be arrested, he must be fully informed of his rights.
  • There can be no retaliation for an officer exercising her rights.
  • The suspect officer has the right to have an attorney, or any other person representing him. That person must be allowed to be present during all questioning.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love police officers. They put their lives on the line for others in a way that is not unlike what our military personnel do. However, the fact that Florida police officers have rights that none of my clients have is disturbing.

Protecting Parents Involved in Hospital Interviews

In truth, it is not easy to provide these protections to parents in a hospital setting. In general, Constitutional rights are restrictions on the activities of the government. Miranda rights, like the right to remain silent, apply to law enforcement but are less often applied to other government agents like CPS investigators. In a hospital setting, you often have medical doctors and staff conducting investigations that are far more forensic than medical in nature. This means that they are conducting an investigation and often an interrogation of parents that is designed to aid in the prosecution that is to follow. Child Protection Team members and Child Abuse Pediatricians often have specific training on how to investigate cases and gather evidence intended to be used against the parents in court. Many parents fall prey to this process because they don’t realize that they have become the target of an investigation. This is really unfair to parents and is often damaging to families.

I am fascinated by the fact that most of my clients are subjected to the same type of behavior that the Florida police officer bill of rights is designed to eliminate. And who is violating these “rights?” Police officers, CPS workers and doctors—all looking for information to aid in their investigations. I think parents being investigated by the government should have the same protections for their rights as police officers in Florida do.

Avoiding the Parent “Trap”

Parents answer questions in the hospital because they are genuinely concerned for the well being of their child. When invited to speculate about what might have caused an injury, parents naturally start a soul searching process and come up with answers that are rejected by doctors and then used to show that they are lying. This never helps.

When being investigated, parents should take advantage of the rights that they do have. At the moment they realize they are being investigated, parents should seriously consider the following general information:

  • You can and should take the time to get an attorney on the phone and review the situation before you make any more statements.
  • Once you have provided the necessary medical information to aid in the care of your child, you do not have to submit to multiple interviews by CPS, Police and Medical doctors.
  • You do not have to be separated from the other parent for interviews.
  • You do not have to agree to an interview when you are exhausted, emotionally drained or need to eat.
  • You can insist on taking some time to stop and think, call an attorney or discuss the matter with your spouse.
  • You should never guess at the cause of an injury. It is okay if you don’t know and you should not speculate.
  • You do not have to sign releases that provide information to CPS or the Police. If asked to do so, you should consult an attorney before making a decision.
  • You do not have to provide samples for drug or alcohol testing unless the police officer has a search warrant. If asked to do so, you should consult an attorney before making a decision.

What If I Have Already Made Mistakes?

Most of my parents/clients have made mistakes or done things I would never have allowed them to do if I had been standing there with them. Nonetheless, we find ways to help them. I tell my clients that it is my job to worry about how to deal with the past mistakes. It is your job to avoid making mistakes going forward. Let’s work together to protect your family. I am generally available 24/7. If you need help with an urgent situation my team can help. Contact us.

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