A father and mother in Virginia say they experienced a nightmare at the hands of government social workers, who snatched their two children after opposing a doctor’s medical diagnosis, and then placed them in foster care – where the kids were exposed to tuberculosis and one of the boys broke an ankle that went untreated for three weeks.
The horrific events took place in 2012 but are now coming to light because of a new lawsuit filed on the family’s behalf by the Home School Legal Defense Association, which says the social workers made unfounded claim after claim. The children remained in foster care for five weeks and, tragically, had to undergo professional counseling once returned to their parents.
It all started when Lane and Susan Funkhouser and their two children (called James and Kat in the article) became sick. Concerned, the parents took the kids to their family doctor, who was unable to make a diagnosis. Because the kids were sick and missing classes, their attendance at the public school became an issue. The parents opted for home schooling while they continued to search for a diagnosis and treatment.
Then things started to get worse. The school filed truancy charges against the Funkhousers, but those charges were quickly dismissed. However, because of the charges, the family became involved with social worker Michael Austin, an investigator for the Clarke County, Virginia, Department of Social Services (DSS), HSLDA says.
Without any kind of medical or psychiatric background, Austin accused Susan Funkhouser of suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy – an extremely rare psychological disorder in which a parent claims a child is ill in order to get attention for herself, HSLDA says. Only a qualified professional can make such a diagnosis.
Laboratory results, though, showed that the Funkhouser children were genuinely ill. The family had finally found a doctor who diagnosed the kids with a combination of streptococcal infection and a bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile (C. diff.). More than 14,000 Americans die each year from C. diff. infection. The doctor sent the family to Rockingham Memorial Hospital to have the children treated, and hospital officials told the family to return if the kids’ symptoms worsened.
In the meantime, it appears that Austin shared his Munchausen syndrome by proxy diagnosis with other social workers and with hospital staff. On July 25, 2012, social workers from Shenandoah County – the neighboring county – removed James and Kat from their home and took them back to the same hospital where they were diagnosed with C. diff. Lane and Susan Funkhouser did not object to the social workers taking their kids to the hospital because they thought another visit with doctors would help. However, they quickly discovered that they had lost custody of their children when the Shenandoah County social workers put their kids in foster care.
Judge Agrees With State, And Tragedy Ensues
A week later the social workers defended their actions, despite clear medical evidence that the children were actually ill, that they had been diagnosed, and that they were receiving treatment. But shockingly, the judge allowed the children to remain in foster care and the social workers were to continue to investigate.
While in foster care the children were repeatedly interrogated, HSLDA says. They were told that their parents didn’t love them and that they would never be going home. Employees at the children’s foster home tried to get James and Kat to provide information about how their parents neglected them.
While at the foster home, James also injured his ankle. When he reported it to the staff, they didn’t take it seriously and refused to take him to a doctor, HSLDA says.
On August 29, 2012, the court ordered the Shenandoah County DSS to release James and Kat to their parents, and the Funkhousers immediately took James to see a doctor for his ankle. The boy’s ankle was broken and had gone untreated for three weeks. The children had also been exposed to tuberculosis at the children’s home, and they had to be placed on a regimen of anti-TB drugs for a year.
The Shenandoah County DSS decided several weeks later that the allegations of Munchausen syndrome by proxy were unfounded. On October 16, 2012, Lane and Susan Funkhouser received a letter stating that the investigation was closed. However, on November 7, a Shenandoah County attorney argued in court that the family should continue to be supervised. After reviewing the medical evidence, the judge dismissed the county’s petition, ending the matter.
Unfortunately, the children required months of counseling to recover from the trauma they experienced when they were snatched from their parents and held in a foster home.
Standing Up For Families
HSLDA’s Michael Farris says cases like this one are becoming more common.
“Parents shouldn’t be afraid to keep looking for medical answers,” Farris wrote. “Taking sick children to doctors until they get a proper diagnosis is good parenting. But too often, looking for the right doctor elicits suspicion from social service investigators and medical staff.”
HSLDA is taking the Funkhouser case and is suing Austin, the Shenandoah County caseworkers, and the employees of the children’s home for their alleged negligence and misconduct.
“HSLDA is fighting for Lane, Susan, James, and Kat because we are sick and tired of seeing parental rights eroded in virtually every area of parenting, including medical and educational decisions,” he wrote. “We believe that parents honestly seeking the best treatment for their children should not be punished by irresponsible allegations of child neglect … When government workers steamroll parents and children, as they did in this case, the government needs a sharp reminder that families have rights.”
HSLDA is a nonprofit advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms.
“When the government tramples on one family’s rights, all of us are at risk. But when we stand together, we can fight back for freedom and for truth,” Farris said.
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