Having a child taken away is every parent’s worst nightmare. Healthcare facilities are often the last line of defense against child abuse, but parents of two families say Nemours Children’s Hospital falsely accused them of abusing their children and that their race may have had something to do with it.
Child Abuse or Racism?
Dwayne and Shawna Milton and Dameon Watson and Iesha Congo Watson, all black, say the hospital first raised its concerns after they complained about the care their children received at the facility. They are now suing the facility for damages related to their care. Their lawyers say both sets of parents have been cleared by the state of any child abuse.
The Miltons are parents to a two-year-old girl. They say they first brought their daughter to the facility in 2019 after she came down with constipation. Records show they brought her back to the hospital about a month later, and again, they expressed similar concerns. According to the lawsuit, they took their child back to Nemours “as a result of growth and weight issues, as well as constipation.”
The hospital admitted the child “contrary to Plaintiffs’ desire,” the suit reads, but was released a short while later. A few days later, child protective services visited the parents at their home and the child’s daycare center. The parents say they were at a funeral when the hospital told them they had 24 hours to admit their daughter to Nemours or the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, or the state would admit her for them.
The Miltons took their daughter to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as requested. The same day, a hearing was held, which awarded custody of the daughter to the state. The hospital diagnosed the girl with fecal impaction. The parents say the state remained involved in the child’s life until September 2019.
Shawna Milton said she used to work at Nemours, and the experience “shattered my perspective of the world.”
The lawsuit says the hospital wrongly diagnosed their daughter with “failure to thrive and malnourishment.” They are now suing the facility for emotional distress, defamation, and emotional negligence. Their daughter is now back at home and feeling healthy, but continues to suffer from PTSD and anxiety.
During a press conference on Thursday, Shawna Milton said, “We are not a neglectful family. We’re a two-parent household. We’re God-fearing. We’re Christian. We’re college-educated. We’re homeowners.”
“So this happened to us,” she continued. “Imagine what’s happening to other families who do need help, who are doing the best they can to care for their child. Why would you try to do something to deter them from getting help?”
In a separate suit, the Waltons say staff at Nemours Children’s Hospital called child protective services on them after their 1-year-old daughter died at the facility in May 2018.
They took their daughter to the ER for “treatment of high blood pressure, increased respiration rate, lethargy, paleness, and shortness of breath,” according to the lawsuit. When the doctor examined the child 30 minutes later, he noted he was making grunting sounds. Two hours later, alarms started going off in the child’s room but no one was responding. Dameon Watson tried to get a nurse, but was told the alarm system was “broken or malfunctioning.”
Another 30 minutes went by when another alarm went off. This time the child went into cardiopulmonary arrest. Providers tried to resuscitate her, but failed. The lawsuit says she died “allegedly as a result of myocarditis.”
The Watsons say they had questions about their daughter’s death, but “rather than taking the time to explain what happened…and before the family could grieve, Nemours immediately reported the incident to Delaware Child Protective Services (CPS).”
Dameon Watson’s lawyer says he was interrogated for hours following his daughter’s death. The state even searched their home. The couple’s other children “were forced to undergo a physical examination and later forced to live with their grandparents until the investigation by CPS was concluded,” the lawsuit adds.
“To leave without my daughter was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with,” Dameon Watson said during a joint press conference. “And I just hope we can get justice, and we can just move on.”