Nobody Should Believe Me S02

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System Override

With the jury’s stunning $242 million verdict in favor of the Kowalski family, host Andrea Dunlop looks at why this case has struck such a nerve on both sides of the political spectrum. She examines why some mothers accused of medical child abuse are viewed as monsters and others as martyrs.

Andrea looks at the charges against social worker Cathy Bedy the woman who became the face of the child welfare bureaucracy during the Maya Kowalski case and examines her testimony.

We also seek out answers about the troubled state of child welfare in America by talking to Dr. Jessica Pryce, author of the forthcoming book Broken: Transforming Child Protective Services—Notes of a Former Caseworker.

Dr. Pryce shares heart-wrenching stories of mothers whose lives have been turned upside down by investigations and sets out a compelling and urgent case for an overhaul of CPS. With her inside view of the system, she also gives insight on how doctors and other mandated reporters can do the best for the families they want to help even within the current, deeply flawed system.

This episode grapples with the complexity around reporting child abuse suspicions and the potentially chilling ripple effects of the explosive verdict in Kowalski v Johns Hopkins All Childrens. It examines the lack of support for struggling parents in America, while leaving the listener with urgent questions about justice and equity.

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Show Notes

Host Andrea Dunlop:

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For information and resources:

The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s MBP Practice Guidelines can be downloaded here.

More about Dr. Marc Feldman:


[00:00:00] Nobody Should Believe Me is a production of Larj Media, that’s L A R J Media.  

Before we begin, a quick warning that in this show we discuss child abuse, and this content may be difficult for some listeners.  

People believe their eyes.  

That’s something that actually is so central to this whole issue and to people that experience this, is that we do believe the people that we love when they’re telling us something. If you questioned everything that everyone told you, you couldn’t make it through your day.  

I’m Andrea Dunlop, and this is Nobody Should Believe Me.  

If you’d like to support this show you can join us on Patreon, or subscribe on Apple Podcasts. You’ll get all episodes early and ad free, as well as lots of exclusive bonus content. 

If monetary support is not an option, rating and reviewing the show helps a ton, as well as sharing on social media or wherever you talk to people.  

If you or someone you know is suffering from medical child abuse, please go [00:01:00] to Munchausensupport. com. We have lots of resources there for survivors, families, and professionals. We also accept donations if you would like to help us continue to do that work.  

And we love hearing from you, so do reach out. Our email is hello at nobodyshouldbelieveme. com. Or you can leave us a voicemail at 484 798 0266, and we may use that voicemail in the show, so please be sure to let us know if you do not want us to do that. 

For many of us, the verdict that came down in the Kowalski v. Johns Hopkins All Children’s trial on November 9th, 2023, which awarded the family nearly a quarter billion dollars in damages, was crushing. But others are celebrating. And what’s fascinating about the reaction is, unlike many things that follow along political lines these days, there are really disparate groups who are celebrating this as a win for really different reasons. 

Why are people from the right supporting [00:02:00] it? Why are people from the left supporting it? On the right, you have this concept of parents rights. So in this country, you know, as sort of a general statement, we let parents dictate their children’s medical care up to a point. But we draw the line at certain things. 

For example, if your child is deathly ill and you happen to have a religious belief that God is going to heal them rather than the doctor and you choose not to take them to the doctor under those circumstances, we don’t allow that under the law. Also, there are certain situations like going to public school where children have to have their childhood vaccines done. 

So, there are groups in this country that think that those limitations are government overreach. And in this case, they see the hospital as pushing back on the rights of Beata and Jack Kowalski. And that they took her kid away, so this is a parents rights issue. And in fact, that is how Gregory Anderson, the lead attorney in the Kowalski case, has framed this in many of his media interviews.[00:03:00]  

And this is taking place, for context, in one of the places where the parents rights movement has been the most active, and has really been pretty effective in terms of legislation. with things like the Don’t Say Gay Bill and book bans and those kind of things, which fall within the broader spectrum of parents rights. 

It’s worth saying that while, you know, a lot of the parents rights stuff is on the sort of far right of the political spectrum, you know, you also have plenty of people on the left that are, for instance, anti vaxxers, where there’s a big crossover with this. So why are liberal people supporting this verdict? 

I think one of the reasons is that we have a very real problem about family separations due to DCF investigations. They do happen too much, and there are some really deep rooted and serious problems around the way that child welfare issues in this country are handled. It’s just that I don’t think this is an example of that. 

And so I think, like, whenever you have a case where, [00:04:00] number one, you’re hearing half the story, and then it also clicks into, like, an existing set of values and beliefs that you have, that is really strong. So on the right, this is clicking into the existing paradigm of parents rights, and on the left, it’s clicking into, we have a very problematic system of child protection in this country that separates families too frequently. 

And this actual problem is one that primarily affects marginalized and disenfranchised groups. 

So let’s start by talking about the woman who, unfortunately in this case, was really made the face of this entire system throughout the Kowalski trial. Kathy Beatty. So, who is she? Kathy was born and raised in Florida. She had been a licensed social worker for about 22 years. She is a grandma. She has a big extended family, etc. 

Started my, [00:05:00] um, master’s in social work in 98. And when did you graduate with your master’s? In 2000. So you mentioned, you mentioned children. Do you have a family? I do. Can you tell us just generally? Sure. Um, I have a daughter. She’s 37 and she’s in Tampa.  

The charges against Kathy Beatty that actually made it to trial were striking enough, but earlier motions use really ugly language to frame her behavior around Maya while she was in the hospital. And much of the online chatter has more or less insinuated that these incidents where she, for instance, put Maya on her lap to comfort her when Maya found out she wouldn’t be able to go home for Christmas as sexual grooming, essentially. So, the bulk of Beatty’s testimony during the trial was basically her just refuting a lot of these allegations that were made against her. 

From the more serious ones, like the battery charges, to the markedly less serious ones about her not [00:06:00] delivering Maya’s Christmas dress on time or not baking her a chocolate cake when she promised to. Both the plaintiff and the Netflix movie about this case, Take Care of Maya, claimed that it was her voice that we heard redirecting some of those calls and interrupting some of the supervised calls with Maya. 

Both Beatty and Charlotte Laporte, who is the DCF employee who supervised Beata’s phone calls with Maya, testified that that was not Kathy Beatty’s voice, but Laporte’s. This is backed up by an email exchange between the two that was also put into evidence. The plaintiffs, nonetheless, stuck to the script about it being Beatty. 

Why they doubled down on this, I can only assume that it’s more convenient for the narrative to have this entire, you know, messy bureaucracy that’s embodied here in just one woman that you can kind of blame for everything. Eventually, the hug, plus an alleged cheek kiss, was entered as a battery charge, and there was an additional battery charge [00:07:00] for the photos that were taken before and after Maya left the hospital briefly to attend a court hearing. 

Maya was awarded significant damages as a result. Here is that section of the verdict. 22. What is the total amount of Maya Kowalski’s damages for psychological treatment incurred in the future after she reaches the age of 18 based on capturing Beati’s hugging, patting, kissing, and placing Maya Kowalski on her lap? 

8 million. 23. What is the total amount of Maya Kowalski’s damages for pain and suffering, disability, physical impairment, mental anguish, inconvenience, and loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life? Sustained in the past and to be sustained in the future based on Katherine Beatty’s hugging having kissing and placing Maya Kowski on her life, 11 million.[00:08:00]  

So I think the reason that this narrative and so many other stories that are being presented as parents who’ve been wrongfully accused of abuse, including my sister Megan, are gaining steam is because there is a problem with family separations in this country. Now whether or not these are examples of it is another question, but I think in order to understand the cultural moment we’re talking about this season, we need more context on this. 

I met Dr. Jessica Pryce during a brief appearance I did on Court TV during the Kowalski trial, and I immediately knew that I wanted to have her on the show.  

My name is Dr. Jessica Pryce and I am a faculty member at Florida State University and started my career in child protection as an investigator. And now I do a lot of work around the country around training and leadership development and, and really how do we shift our mindsets and do this work differently.  

Dr. Pryce has written an absolutely phenomenal book and it’s coming out in March of next year. I was able to [00:09:00] get an advance copy of it and I was blown away by this. I read it in about two sittings. It was so compelling. Her book is called Broken and she started writing it in 2018.  

I really set out to amplify the voices of Black women who were going through the system and working hard to pull their families back together. And it has become, over time, also a professional memoir where I certainly amplify Black women’s voices, but I also add in my experience from the front line when I did child abuse investigations. So, I’m hopeful that people get an understanding of what CPS work looks like and also just the complexities. 

Dr. Pryce has such a valuable perspective on this because she knows what the front lines in these cases look like. She went out on her first ever call right at the beginning of her career.  

I was an [00:10:00] intern, so I couldn’t really do much except assist, and it was an environmental hazard case. And if you know anything about that, it means that the home is not safe for the kids that live there. 

So, when we went to the home, I remember walking through the home and honestly feeling appalled at what I saw. Like, I was angry, I was shocked, and I felt, oh, these kids shouldn’t be here. Like, I immediately had these thoughts and I don’t have a lot of authority, so I couldn’t make those calls, but I definitely remember feeling like, this is not okay. 

And that’s why I tell people all the time as caseworkers. We’re human. So I always talk about bias, but we are human beings and we can feel things when we see things that, you know, don’t feel right. And we feel like kids shouldn’t have to deal with that. But I believe what I missed and also what my colleague missed that day was the mom and her experience and what she was dealing with. 

And also we miss just the reality that [00:11:00] this is their mom and this is their home. And, you know, at the end of that case, we made a decision to take those kids out of the home. But as you read, it created so many other problems for those kids and for this mom. And I don’t want to be reductionistic and say, all we had to do was clean up because it’s not that simple. 

But I do think that we could have went about that case in a different manner. to try to keep that family together. The picture that Dr. Price paints of this experience, you know, just entering this squalid trailer home and peering through the cupboards to check if there’s enough food for the children living there is such a vivid one. 

The trash is overflowing. There are dirty diapers on the floor and the mother’s really angry that they’re there. And Dr. Price mentions this really haunting detail about setting out with her supervisor in the car and noticing that there are two car seats in the back. And sure enough, they leave this visit [00:12:00] with the baby, who is screaming after being taken out of his mother’s arms. 

So, Dr. Price would go on after that internship to become a CPS investigator, for the same reason that many people go into that line of work, because she wanted to help. It sounded like a really noble thing to do, where I would come in and keep kids safe. And I realized soon after that, that it was, it was very much a level of intrusion that I didn’t expect. 

I don’t know why I didn’t expect that, but it really, I was 23 and it was a brand new internship and a brand new job. Right away, the realities of this work were a shock to her system. Many of the situations are very awkward, very intrusive, and you are meeting families on their worst day and asking them questions that they probably couldn’t answer on their best day, right? 

And you’re requiring them to, um, really have a lot of objectification of all of their decisions, all of their behaviors, and I [00:13:00] just feel like it, you know, you come in to save kids, but you realize you do a lot of policing in many ways. It sort of creates this rift between you and parents. So instead of helping kids, you’re really ostracizing, punishing, you know, you’re focused on the parent and we Like what’s best for this child in this moment? 

So I did not anticipate how much my job would be looking at parents dissecting their behaviors and trying to find a guilty person rather than, okay, this is a family and what can we do to figure out how to keep them together in some capacity? We’ve occasionally had comments on our show that we are either too pro CPS or too pro law enforcement. 

And I get where that’s coming from, because in the individual cases we’ve covered, many of those folks were the good actors who helped kids get out of harm’s way. But there is a big difference between the cases that we talk about mostly on this show, where a child’s life is in danger, and the vast [00:14:00] majority of cases that end up in the system. 

Most people don’t realize that. I believe the latest data has it at 76 percent of kids are in the system because of neglect. Their parents are suffering through perhaps poverty, perhaps some mental health issues that are drawing them away from their kids and the kids aren’t having their needs met. So I would say the overwhelming majority of the time, we’re not exactly investigating willful abuse. 

We’re investigating some complex Sometimes disturbing situations, but I think that we have to come in not exactly looking for a guilty person, but trying to find out what holes can we plug and what, how can we strengthen this person to do things better? The stories Dr. Price tells in her book are so heartbreaking. 

You can see her in the beginning, you know, young and idealistic, crashing into the realities of a broken system. As much as she wanted to help families, she often felt that the [00:15:00] work inhibited her from doing that. Sometimes when you’re working with families and you’re so close to them and you’re in their homes every day, you would assume that that proximity would create awareness. 

But it really was the opposite for me. So once I left the field and I started looking at the data, doing research and working on my doctorate, I started to see just how much harm is being done to vulnerable families, many of them racially marginalized. So again, I, I, some people feel like proximity creates awareness, but sometimes you do have to zoom out and say, look at what we’re doing to families and look at what I contributed when I was in the field. 

I don’t want to give too much away because, trust me, you need to read this book, but during the course of Dr. Price’s journey as a CPS investigator, she finds herself between people she loves and colleagues she admires. And these things start to happen around you with people that you care about. It definitely taints, changes, shifts how you do the work. 

And [00:16:00] then there’s that moral conflict of, these are my colleagues, these are my, you know, colleagues and friends and family. And just trying to figure out, realizing everyone’s doing the best they can. But something’s just amiss. I think it’s really easy to stand at the sidelines of any given case and cast certain characters as villains, whether it’s a social worker like Kathy Beatty, or someone we feel like we can label as a bad parent. 

But there’s always gray area, and I appreciate how willing Dr. Price is to dive into that. Her work really resonated with me as a mom because, you know, unlike a lot of the abuse situations that we talk about on this show that are pretty extreme. There were so many stories in her book that were not only sympathetic, but relatable, where I thought, oh my god, like that could happen to someone I know. 

I mean, that could happen to me. 

You know, there’s this line from the television adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere [00:17:00] that aired on Hulu a few years ago, that I think about. All the time. Reese Witherspoon’s character, who is an upper middle class white mom, is admonishing Kerry Washington’s character. And she’s a Black single mom whose parenting style the Reese Witherspoon character finds, you know, questionable. 

And Reese Witherspoon says, I made good choices. She’s defending by saying this, you know, why she has all of the things she has, the wealth and the good life and et cetera. And Washington’s character corrects her. And she says, no, you had good choices.  

The truth is, parents don’t get any institutional support in this country. 

I think I’m a good mom. I have support and resources. What if all that was stripped away? What kind of parent would I be under worse circumstances?  

There’s one story in this book that I had to scrape myself off the floor after reading. The story of a woman called Jatoya [00:18:00] who ends up getting caught in just this series of horrific circumstances and paying a completely unjust price for the actions of other people. 

This is the kind of thing that can happen when you can’t afford to hire defense attorneys and when people don’t necessarily assume the best about you. The fact is, some moms get the benefit of the doubt, and some don’t. Absolutely. And I see that so much. And that’s why you probably also saw that I talk about this framework of development, because there are certain mindsets that really discount any credibility when it comes to moms in the system. And when I talk about this case in particular, I explain to people that the folks that wrote Jatoya off, they have a very specific mindset about whether it’s black moms, poor moms, moms that are involved with men they don’t like, like they have some sort of bias toward this person. 

And when they’ve already put [00:19:00] those those lenses up toward that person, the person doesn’t have a leg to stand on and they lose credibility and they don’t get any sort of benefit of the doubt. You know, we’ve heard many times throughout the course of this show from people involved in these various systems that one of the reasons the courts are often ineffective on medical child abuse is because of this mandate to reunify families. 

Dr. Pryce learned this early in her career when she was sent to investigate a white family. I had made it through my internship and went through training, it was about nine weeks of training and Still green, but one of my early cases went out to a home of suspected child physical abuse, and the school wanted us to check the child. 

Generally, we have the child examined by our pediatric child abuse physician. When I got to the home, I had a colleague with me, and I fully assumed that It would be like any other case. And that was a moment of clarity for me that [00:20:00] we don’t have as much power as we think we do. I thought that, you know, that he would let me in and I would be looking through his cupboards. 

But as you read, that just wasn’t the case. And he apparently knew his rights. and didn’t want anything to do with us. I had a glimpse at his son, but didn’t look at him, didn’t interview him, didn’t get a chance to see any marks or bruises, and we did not take him down to the clinic to get examined. So a lot of things that other moms would have done immediately and wouldn’t have known to assert their rights. 

I, it was stopped right there in front of me on that day and it showed me a lot about the fact that we have got to do a better job of sharing with families and parents. You do have rights and you do have the right to get an attorney or ask for help or ask questions and protect your family. Yeah. So, I mean, what do you want parents to know if they are dealing with the system, like, to that point? 

Because I think that really struck me, too, when I [00:21:00] think the way you phrased it was like, all parents have rights, but only some feel like they can assert them. That’s such a good point is that, like, not everyone has the same access, sort of, to their rights, right? Because, just because you have rights, if you can’t fight the system if you can’t afford to, if you don’t have the knowledge, the access. There’s all kinds of barriers to why people can’t, you know, go hire an attorney who knows those laws and fight on your behalf. So what do you want parents to know if they are dealing with these systems? Well, the tough part about this question is the racial aspect because I don’t know, I can assume what would have happened if that family was Black. 

So I could offer up advice to your listeners and say, if DCF comes to your home, don’t open the door, call your attorney right away. But I don’t know what law enforcement will do in that scenario. Yeah. I don’t, it might be a completely different scenario. Yeah. If I were to tell folks to do that, but I’m inclined to. 

I’m inclined to say, if they come to your home, before you do anything, if you have an [00:22:00] attorney, if you have a friend who’s an attorney, who you, it’s not even your attorney. Call someone who can give you some legal advice. Yeah. If you feel comfortable, call law enforcement. If you and your kids are in your home and you haven’t abused them and you want to make sure that there’s some level of checks and balances, you need to get someone else involved. 

But again, that advice is just tough because that racial component is there. You know, when you talk about sort of… being all powerful in some contexts and then powerless in others. I mean, because that’s what we’ve heard from some CPS workers and supervisors that we’ve talked to is like, people think we have all this power and we really don’t, but I think there’s like power in the perception of it too. 

Right. Because like, if you are. a white mom and you know that you can sort of assert yourself and stand up for yourself and that’s not gonna like ruin your life essentially. It’s not the same as if you’re a black mom and you’re worried that that’s going to be taken and held against you in this way that it wouldn’t be otherwise. 

So you’re right, I mean it just couldn’t, it couldn’t be more complicated. It’s just the same way not all traffic stops are equal, [00:23:00] right? Right, and another issue that happened that’s not in the book. That’s, you reminded me of this other issue where moms reach out to me all the time. And recently I had a mom reach out, African American woman. 

And I also have a couple of attorneys that are amazing. And sometimes I do a three way call and I say, can you help this mom? I know that you can’t be their counsel because maybe they can’t afford you. And, and the attorneys that I know, You know, they’ll hop on a call and answer some questions. And recently we had a call with a mom and the attorney said, look, do whatever they tell you to do. 

Apologize for your behavior. And this will be done pretty quickly. And I just felt on the call really uncomfortable with that advice because again, I know why they said that. And this was a black attorney, right? I know why he told them to do that. But can you imagine if that was a white attorney and a white person, right? 

You know, that sort of advice would not be given. So in that moment, I thought… Why did I even call you? But I know why I called them, but I, I understand what they were saying. They were like, all I can tell you right now is if you [00:24:00] want to get your kids back, do what they tell you and apologize every time you get a chance. 

Oh, yeah, that’s really, that’s really maddening because You’re right, it’s just not the same standard at all. And it’s like we can, we can give you, we can talk to people about the world the way we wish it was, or we can talk to them about the world the way it is, and that those two things are often in conflict, and yeah, that’s a great point. 

As I’ve been watching the Kowalski case play out on this big national stage, I keep wondering, how would this story have gone if Maya wasn’t a conventionally beautiful, blonde haired, blue eyed, white girl? And on top of that, she’s one who’s lost her mother. I mean, truly, this is straight out of the Disney princess archetype. 

None of that is Maya’s fault. But the reality is, I think the people around her understood and exploited that opportunity. Netflix knew it. [00:25:00] People knew it. New York Magazine knew it. Gregory Anderson knew it. Arguably, her dad knew it. They knew what they had. 

There’s another major cultural figure in the public’s conception of Munchausen by proxy and medical child abuse that’s been in the news lately. Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who is set to be released from prison next month after serving the bulk of her prison sentence for her role in her mother’s murder. So, Gypsy Rose and her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, conspired to kill her mother, Dede Blanchard, who had been subjecting Gypsy to horrific medical child abuse for most of her life. 

You know, they went on make a wish trips, they got a house from Habitat for Humanity, she was confined to a wheelchair, I mean, really awful. The reaction to these two cases in the media has been notable. Now, I think age does [00:26:00] play a big role here, because Gypsy was in her 20s at the time of the murder, and she’s given us a first person account of the abuse that she suffered. 

You know, she’d actually been misled about what her age was, her mother changed her birth certificate, that’s like a whole other story, but nonetheless, you know, she had obviously come to some kind of understanding about what was happening to her. By contrast, Maya was 10 when her mother died, and as we discussed in the previous episode, It’s not unusual for children to just have no idea at that age whether or not they’ve suffered abuse and particularly with medical child abuse where there’s such a high level of manipulation that goes into it. 

So nonetheless, Here we have these two mothers, both of them are deceased, neither one was ever charged with the crime of medical child abuse, Dede Blanchard was never even criminally investigated as Beata was, and neither one was ever officially diagnosed with factitious disorder [00:27:00] imposed on another. And yet, no one hesitates to call Dede Blanchard, who is after all, a murder victim, a monster. 

That is how she is portrayed. And yet many people believe Beata to have been a martyr, essentially. Now, certainly, the differing takes of their children on what happened plays a role, but honestly, I don’t think it’s just that. Both women were white, but Dede Blanchard was low income, she was plus size, and not beautiful by conventional Western beauty standards. 

She had a tumultuous relationship with Gypsy Rose’s father, and by the time of her death, he was out of the picture. Beata, on the other hand, was slim and conventionally pretty, married to a former firefighter and upper middle class. Now by the way, there’s been a lot of speculation about where the Kowalskis got all this money before this verdict. 

You know, I don’t know what their previous net worth was or the [00:28:00] source of it, but Given the fact that they had an in ground pool in their house, that Maya, before this trial, was driving a Tesla, the fact that they were able to hire attorneys like Deborah Salisbury to represent them during the shelter hearings, and the fact that they, you know, owned two houses at the beginning because they mentioned they had to sell one to pay the legal bills, they obviously had access to pretty considerable resources. 

So, socioeconomic status definitely plays a role in who gets the benefit of the doubt. I would say that what really brought this home for me was, I think it was 2017, I read this article. The title was, If You Live in a Poor Neighborhood, You Better Be a Perfect Parent. And it was a New York Times article that people can look up even today. 

And it talks about just the reality of if you live in a poor community, if you are of low socioeconomic status. Your parenting decisions are under a microscope and what happens in your neighborhood, it could be the same exact thing that [00:29:00] happens in another neighborhood, but the intervention, the response is going to be different. 

I hosted an event four or five years ago and invited the author of that article to keynote my conference. I looked at the article, loved it, reached out to her, and she is a white woman, and she talked about this in her keynote. She said one of the women in her article was an African American woman who took a bath one afternoon and her daughter was down for a nap. 

And then her daughter woke up and wandered outside and went down the street and the next person that came to her house was a CPS worker. And the keynote speaker said, I’m here to tell you that if that happened in my neighborhood, it would be discussed over mimosas. And it would be laughed about. They would have brought the child home. 

We would be laughing about it saying, oh, you went to sleep and left your baby out here. But DCF wouldn’t have made it in that neighborhood. So, obviously, you know, poor white people do also get treated worse by the system than their middle class peers. But Dr. Price points [00:30:00] out that race and poverty are inextricable. 

I want to tell folks that say that race isn’t an issue, that it’s all poverty. I would just say it is hard to educate those things. Like, they are so enmeshed, and I think that, um, they’re both an issue, but we can’t discount race in, in this scenario. So like so many big, complex issues in this country, unfortunately, child protection has, in many ways, been flattened into a narrative of personal responsibility. 

And much of this really came to the forefront with the Parents Anonymous movement that started several decades ago. It was created in the 1970s by a woman named Jolly K. And Jolly K. created Parents Anonymous because she abused her seven year old daughter and she wanted to create something similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous. 

Really, this… Individual look at you as a person and why are you hurting your child? And it [00:31:00] was an acclaimed sort of group that she assembled. She was all over the news during this era. She was interviewed on television. She also was interviewed and presented at Congress. And ultimately, Parents Anonymous grew to over a thousand chapters and she refuted any racial or social disadvantage. 

And she really looked at, again, looked at abuse as a very individual problem. She believed that if you come to these groups and we help you with self fulfillment, and we help you develop your personal, you know, psychological issues, then you will stop doing what you’re doing. And I tell people if we look at the policies that happened since Jolly K and since Parents Anonymous, I mean Parents Anonymous was propelled across the country through a pretty big policy known as CAPTA, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and it endorsed Parents Anonymous and created funding for it. 

And I tell people all the time, if you’re wondering why we look at parents the way we look at [00:32:00] them, it’s probably because a lot of our policies were written based on this individual mindset of you’re the problem. These parents are the problem. And if you know anything about CPS, you know that most parents get a case plan. 

And many of them are identical. Because again, we’re saying, okay, the parent is the problem. So if we develop you, then things will get better. Could that be a lever? Development? Sure, but it can’t be the only lever. So I tell people that historically we have created a narrative that This is a very individual problem, and that racial and social environmental issues have nothing to do with child abuse. 

And that just can’t be the reality if we’re looking at almost 80 percent of families dealing with neglect. One of my biggest fears, and I think the reason that this verdict is hitting a lot of us so hard, is that I’m worried. that the Kowalski verdict is going to have a massive chilling effect on the willingness of doctors and other [00:33:00] professionals to report abuse despite the fact that it’s mandated. 

And you know, we always encourage people on this show to report suspicions of abuse because we know that these interventions can save kids lives, but like everything else related to child protection in this country, this too is complicated. So what do you think people should do if they have a really strong suspicion that abuse is happening? 

Yeah, so I appreciate the question, and I also appreciate the difficulty of the question, and I agree with you that quite like law enforcement, I feel like law enforcement is asked to do so many things, right? Law enforcement, they have so many things, um, in their wheelhouse, some things they probably shouldn’t have in their wheelhouse, Just like CPS has all of these things, there’s a housing crisis in this country, and CPS has very little they can do about that, right? 

So we realize that there’s so many things that impact the CPS system that is out of their locus of control. So I would say, [00:34:00] as mandated reporters, and I offer this up in the book, and I was very particular about how I worded this because I don’t want anyone to say that I’ve told them not to report because then that’s a felony. 

You know, if you’re a mandated reporter, you have to report. So, but I did say… Considerations before you make a report. And I gave six or seven things to think through. And one of those things is, do you know this family? Are you aware of anything that’s happened in the last six months that might be contributing to this issue? 

Might you consider having a conversation with someone you trust, a community advocate? About this family, you can keep it anonymous. If you don’t want to mention their names, just say, I know a family and talk about potential resources if you can help. I also made a statement in the book and said, fill in the blank. 

If this family had X, my concern would be resolved, right? If you can put something in that blank, then you might have an idea of who to talk to and where to go. And I, I offer that up because when you look at the data, you see that [00:35:00] educators call, law enforcement calls, and physicians and social workers at hospitals. 

And I think that we can’t stop the mandate. It’s federal. You have to call it in, but if you can take a moment to consider. What might happen and what are some things we can offer. We’re doing a big push to make ourselves known as mandated supporters rather than mandated reporters. So we do want to have this supportive lens before we make the call. 

I also want to share that there is a pilot going on in some areas of California around a family support plan. where we’re asking mandated reporters to fill out a one page piece of paper before they report a family. And on that piece of paper, it asks questions like, have you talked to the parents? Where some people laugh when I say that because they’re thinking, wait, people report people they don’t talk to? 

Well, of course, they might not know them. But if you are a teacher, we want you to stop and say, well, let me try to talk to mom. Let me try to talk to [00:36:00] dad before I, you know, call DCF. And there’s a slew of other questions. And some people at the end of that, form, they still report the family. So it doesn’t mean you don’t report the family, but now you have at least thought you’ve considered and you can also offer more information to that hotline operator. 

So again, no easy answers, but I am asking people to take a moment to consider why you’re doing it. what resources can be offered and make sure you’re aware of what might happen to that family as a result of your call. So with the Maya Kowalski case and many of these other really similar situations that are going on around the country, you know, doctors and medical child abuse pediatricians in particular are really being villainized in a way that I feel is deeply unfair and makes kids less safe. 

However, I also know that it would be. It’s utterly naive of me to think that A, doctors never make mistakes, or that B, they’re not human beings who are [00:37:00] subject to the same biases as the rest of us. So in my experience, a lot of families, when they go in to get help, when they go into the ER, when they, you know, are talking to physicians, a pattern that I have picked up on is these parents are asking questions, perhaps pushing back a little. 

Not wanting to accept everything that the doctors say. Some parents want to understand all of the nuances and details about treatment plans and what exactly are you doing to my baby? And I think that a couple of the stories I mentioned, they started to create this. mistrust with the hospital staff when they started to push back and ask questions. 

And I think that level of mistrust often leads to CPS being called. And I think you use the word assumptions, assuming, okay, this parent is neglecting our medical advice. This parent is not doing what we think needs to be done right now. And that happened at least two of the cases. And. [00:38:00] I just, I certainly would never say I have all the answers because medical professionals, I believe, are also trying their best. 

But I also think that there needs to be some sort of checks and balances as it relates to what doctors say is abuse, what they don’t say is abuse. I was at a conference a couple of years ago giving a keynote and it was a room full of physicians. And they, they brought me there because they said, we want to hear about racial disparity, implicit bias. 

Some of the science is saying that. You know, black families come in and they get this, this designation of medical abuse or medical neglect and other families don’t. So, I do think that physicians are trying to learn more about it and do better, but I think that there still needs to be some sort of checks and balances. 

So, what advice? Does Dr. Price have for doctors who find themselves in these tricky situations and are trying to keep their oath to do no harm? So I would offer that a lot of child welfare agencies are beginning to do group [00:39:00] decision making. You know, when I was in the field, I would often make a decision. 

I would call one person and we would make a decision about removals or make a decision about what we see with a family. And a lot of child welfare agencies are saying, you know, if it’s not an emergency situation, so to speak, let’s get into a room and talk about what we see and talk about it from three different lenses, right? 

What are the strengths of the family? What’s the relevant history and what supportive things can we do to keep them together, right? They come into the room with the frame of reference that this family is staying together. They don’t come in with the frame of reference of, okay, this child’s in danger, what can we do to protect them? 

They come in saying, this is a family, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep them together, unless we can’t. Like it’s always, that is the way we look at it in this group decision making model. So I would offer that up. And maybe your physicians that are listening are saying, we already do that. 

And that’s great. But I think it’s important to get into a room with people. Hopefully the room is diverse and you’re talking about what your [00:40:00] concerns are. And I think having awareness in that conversation and a level of cultural humility is going to take you a long way. There are facts, there’s data, there’s objective things that you’re seeing in that room, but there’s also a zoom out moment of saying, okay, we see what we see. 

We have to report it and often you do. I understand mandated reporting. I’m a mandated reporter. So I would say if you have to report something, that’s fine, but I would also encourage you to advocate for that family. And what I mean by that is, and you might recall this in the book, one of the moms had her child taken out of her custody. 

And she stayed with that baby in the ER for the entire time. She never left the hospital. Now, there was someone watching her, which she didn’t really appreciate, but she stayed there. To me, that’s a small way of saying, we’re concerned. We don’t even know if you did this or not, but we don’t want to separate you from your child, therefore harming the child, but also damaging you. 

So there are small things I think we can do to try to assuage some of the trauma that [00:41:00] is inevitable when a child comes in with disturbing injuries. So, importantly, the story she’s telling here is not about a mother who is under investigation for medical child abuse, specifically. And as we’ve discussed, there are some reasons in these cases where a mother does need to be completely separated in order to keep a child safe. 

This ER anecdote she’s telling has to do with that mother that she talks about in the book, Jatoya. Which, for me, this was the most harrowing story in the book. And, as I was sitting with what happened to this mom, I wondered, you know, where’s her Netflix movie? Where are the parents rights protesters for her? 

Where are you, my kicks and bog? I’m not saying that upper middle class white people never suffer injustice. But the fact is, right now, the Kowalskis and a lot of other people who look like them are being made the face of this. And it’s not [00:42:00] sitting well with me. The systems that we’re discussing here couldn’t be more fraught and complex. 

And I really appreciate Dr. Price’s work and perspective. She’s been on the ground and she knows this work isn’t easy for doctors either. I know that you said many of your listeners are physicians and medical staff. So first of all, I want to say thank you for even listening into this conversation. I know that the decisions you have to make aren’t easy, but I just want to say that. 

Marginalized families are really just feeling the brunt of systemic issues in child welfare. And I encourage you to just, you know, pursue awareness and do the best you can when it comes to, to the most vulnerable that come into, into your offices and your facilities. 

On the next episode, there is a situation going on in Lehigh, Pennsylvania, where this issue of parents rights and child abuse pediatricians [00:43:00] is clashing in a really explosive way and we’re going to explore it.  

That’s next time on Nobody Should Believe Me.  

Nobody Should Believe Me is a production of Large Media. 

Our senior producer is Tina Nole and our editor is Corine Kuehlthau

Listen to Episodes


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Season 01 | Episode 04

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Season 01 | Episode 07

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Season 02 | Episode 01

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Season 02 | Episode 02

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Season 02 | Episode 03

Where There’s Smoke

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Season 02 | Episode 04

All In

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Season 02 | Episode 05


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Season 02 | Episode 06

The Trial

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Season 02 | Episode 10

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Season 03 | Episode 02


Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 02Shelter As the Maya Kowalski case heads to trial, we dig into the massive trove of documents about this case and begin to unpack what we know about what really happened during Maya Kowalski’s fateful stay at Johns...

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Season 03 | Episode 03

In a Heartbeat

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Season 03 | Episode 04


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Season 03 | Episode 05

The Women

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Season 03 | Episode 06

The Believers Part 1

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The Believers Part 2

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Trial of the Century

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The Verdict

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Star Witness

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What Now?

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Media Circus

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The Trials of Dr. Sally Smith (Season Finale: Part 1)

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Bad Press (Season Finale: Part 2)

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What Jack Knew

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Season 03 | Episode 19

What Happened to Beata?

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Season 03 | Episode 20

Kowalski Case Update with Ethen Shapiro

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