SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A Marine Corps pilot and his wife are suing the County of San Diego after Child Welfare Services took their seven-month-old son from their home for more than a month after the boy head-butted his mother as he played after breastfeeding.
The couple also says that while their infant son was in custody, county workers conducted invasive medical examinations against their objections.
The lawsuit is one of several that have been filed against the County's Health and Human Services Agency in recent years which has resulted in millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements.
The June 25, 2020 Injury
Carolina Hipschman had picked up her son "C.H." from his crib after waking up from his afternoon nap.
After breastfeeding the seven-month-old, C.H. began "dancing" on his mom's lap. According to the June 21 lawsuit, while jumping on his mother's lap, the boy accidentally head-butted Hipschman in the mouth. Hipschman began bleeding and went to a dentist's appointment when her husband, Alexander, returned home from work.
Throughout the rest of the day, C.H. appeared fine but later in the evening he grew fussy and for a period refused to eat.
When Hipschman returned home from the dentist C.H. was already asleep.
The next morning Hipschman noticed a red bump on his head from where he head-butted her. According to the lawsuit, she took the boy to the doctor to get him checked out.
Staff at Rady Children's said C.H. did not appear to be in pain or discomfort, however, according to the lawsuit they ordered a CT scan to make sure.
The scan, says the lawsuit, revealed that C.H. had a "very minor hairline fracture" which would heal normally and without any medical intervention.
The doctor at Rady Children's recommended having C.H. stay the night to be sure. As mandatory reporters, staff at Rady's submitted a Hotline Referral to the County as required when an infant is injured and admitted to the hospital.
County Child Welfare Services Detains C.H.
A few hours after admitting C.H. to the hospital, investigators from the County's Health and Human Services Agency placed C.H. on a hospital hold and decided to detain the boy. They did so, according to the lawsuit, after San Diego Police did not find any evidence of abuse.
Reads the lawsuit: "[Staff] agreed to impose an unwarranted hospital hold and detain C.H. from his parents' control without first seeking Court approval or a warrant, and without first conducting a reasonable investigation to attempt to corroborate the allegations made in the Hotline Referral."
Hipschman claims that over the course of the day, Child Welfare Services workers accused her of intentionally harming her son and that the couple "posed an immediate risk of harm" to their child.
The following day, Child Welfare Services workers removed the boy from the parent's custody and transported him to Polinsky Children's Center. Workers informed the Hipschmans that they were under investigation for child abuse.
After staff at Polinsky's were unable to feed C.H., county staff then transported the boy to a foster home in Oceanside.
"Rather than calling two different, immediately available, relatives, on information and belief, [staff] proceeded to move C.H. nearly 50 miles away from home," reads the lawsuit.
County Keeps Boy in a Foster Home
According to the lawsuit, on July 1, 2020, five days after the boy was detained, a Juvenile Court judge ruled that the county had the discretion to return C.H. to a grandfather and allow the parents to stay with their son.
Despite this, Hipschman's attorney says the county opted to keep the boy in the foster home for another week.
Throughout that time, according to the lawsuit, the young boy was subjected to a number of invasive examinations.
On August 4, nearly a month and a half after the boy was detained, a judge dismissed the case against the Hipshmans and granted the parents full custody.
According to the lawsuit, the child welfare worker's supervisor called Hipschman to apologize. The lawsuit says the supervisor said, "I am really sorry that this happened. I realize that [staff] did not follow certain procedures. I wish it would have been done better, but she is just a weekend social worker. To be honest, a lot of them still need to be trained.”
Attorney Shawn McMillan represents the Hipschmans. McMillan says he has lobbied elected officials and tried to get changes made and additional training for child welfare workers to no avail.
"The first time you see it, you might think: 'Oh, it's just a bad worker, or supervisor, or a mistake.' But, when you see the same things happening over and over again, and millions are being paid out over the course of years it starts to look like the county is deliberately indifferent to the rights of the families they are dealing with, and is instead motivated by factors other than what is best for these kids and families," says McMillan.
He added, "It gets a little depressing once you realize that our local government seems to be deliberately violating people's rights -- and there's really not much we can do about it other than sue them over and over. It's like groundhog day."
In addition, there's also a lasting impact on the families and the children, says McMillan.
"For a child, whether rightly or wrongfully removed, there is neuronal damage that is done, and to a large extent, it is permanent. Some kids do better than others, but they all suffer some damage. As for the parents, if you have kids you can imagine the emotional suffering you might endure."
The County of San Diego declined to comment, stating it had not yet received the complaint..
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