For the past month and a half, Ashley and Daniel Pardo have been trying to get their four-year-old son, Drake, returned home from Child Protective Services (CPS).
CPS removed Drake on June 20 based on concerns of medical child abuse, but did not disclose those allegations until after the removal despite the family’s request to know them.
On July 2, a district judge at the family’s adversarial hearing granted CPS temporary managing conservatorship.
The family’s lawyers have filed for a writ of mandamus from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Dallas.
On Friday, August 9, a court in Kaufman County will hold a status hearing for the case. According to a CPS spokesperson, the hearing will be at 9:00 AM.
The Texan has published several articles following the case.
We first reported on the initial removal by CPS.
Following the hearing on July 2, we reported on the gag order issued by the court and then on reports of the ruling according to State Senator Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), who attended the hearing and called it the “most egregious display of injustice” that he has seen.
Lastly, we provided an update regarding the plans to request a writ of mandamus and a brief summary of the case so far.
As noted in our last article, there have been two major points of contention to arise to the forefront of the case: is this a legitimate instance of medical child abuse and has CPS handled the situation properly and legally?
After an in-depth investigation and conversations with numerous witnesses of the first court hearing, we have compiled a more detailed account of the case below.
Medical Child Abuse
Medical child abuse is known by a variety of terms. It is commonly referred to as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy or simply Munchausen.
In the DSM-5, the current manual used by the American Psychiatric Association, it is identified as a disorder called Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (FDIA).
FDIA occurs when caretakers exaggerate or contrive medical conditions of the child under his or her care.
The disorder is purportedly rare, though statistics on it are sparse and it is said to be difficult to determine the number of cases because of its deceptive nature. It is also most commonly associated with mothers of toddlers who are extremely involved in their child’s medical health.
In 2017, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on a mother, Kaylene Bowen, who had taken her child to over three hundred doctors’ visits and had thirteen surgeries between when the child was born in 2009 and 2016.
According to reports, Bowen displayed the common symptoms of FDIA: she had been dishonest about her son’s medical condition and also publicized his alleged illnesses through social media and fundraisers.
Bowen was arrested and custody of her son was ultimately given to his biological father.
The Bowen case contrasts with another one written about by Pamela Weintraub, a medical reporter, in a 2007 article for Psychology Today.
Kelly Savage and her husband had just relocated to Fort Worth in 2004 for work and at the time, their 9-month-old son, Austin, was having severe acid-reflux problems that kept him from keeping food down.
He was admitted to the Cook Children’s Hospital, where the Savages requested their son to be fed via a feeding tube.
Kelly was captured on surveillance removing an air bubble from the tube and was thought to be tampering with it.
The alleged tampering led to more allegations of Munchausen, and CPS removed Austin from his parents’ custody.
Two months later, experts thoroughly examined medical records and concluded that it was not a case of Munchausen. Kelly was fully exonerated.
Weintraub’s article goes on to investigate the controversies surrounding the disorder.
One of the main difficulties noted about the disorder is the general broadness of its symptoms.
“For example,” one Illinois scholar quoted in the article said, “if the mother is too friendly, a sign of Munchausen. If the mother is angry, a sign of Munchausen.”
Another problem is the difficulty in proving the disorder. Evidence like the video footage used against Kelly Savage can sometimes be misinterpreted.
Sometimes a separation test is used to determine if the caretaker is inducing harm. If a child is removed from the family and his health improves, then it would seem to confirm the allegations of medical child abuse.
However, this method also faces some problems. The test can be misleading if not all factors are taken into consideration.
Weintraub uses children with acid reflux as an example. She writes that such children are prescribed “a drug that can cause seizures and a full range of unusual side effects. Mothers are blamed for the symptoms, and then separated from their children. The treatment is stopped, and the children get well, apparently confirming [Munchausen].”
The Allegations Against the Pardos
Given the complex nature of medical child abuse, the accusations against the Pardos are also bound to be complex.
The removal affidavit reportedly claims, “Ashley has multiple physicians and switches doctors when she does not agree with their assessment. Ashley is exaggerating and lying about [her son’s] symptoms and conditions.”
Accordingly, it also argues that she “is demanding an unnecessary surgical procedure to place a G-tube,” and has been searching for a third gastrointestinal doctor after two others advised against the surgery.
The alleged desire of the Pardos for a G-tube is apparently the focal point of the case of medical child abuse being made against them.
At the hearing, Dr. Dakil offered a clarification of her meaning of “medical child abuse,” saying that it is different than simply Munchausen because it does not attempt to understand the motivation of the caretaker committing the abuse. Medical child abuse, according to her, is purely the act of seeking out unnecessary medical care and treatment.
Unnecessarily seeking a surgical placement of a G-tube would fall under Dr. Dakil’s definition.
In the hearing, Daniel testified that he and his wife had sought a G-tube surgery for Drake, but he said that they did so at the suggestion of medical specialists.
The parents testified that Drake has been consistently diagnosed with feeding problems since 2015.
They said that progressing from formulas and semi-solid foods to more solid foods has been a challenge. In order to keep his weight up, the specialists recommended a G-tube.
Before proceeding to that more permanent solution requiring surgery, Drake began using a temporary NG-tube for feeding.
As the affidavit claims, the parents had multiple GI doctors at Children’s, even firing one. However, Daniel said that the first doctor was not fired because they disagreed with his assessment of the feeding tube, but for other reasons.
Ashley said at the hearing that one of the reasons for the firing was because the doctor refused to visit Drake when he was in the hospital.
Dr. Dakil told the court that the doctor thought he was fired because he did not recommend the G-tube.
After the firing, the Pardos hired a new GI doctor out of the same office at Children’s.
Ashley claimed that the second GI doctor ordered a G-tube for Drake, causing them to think that the doctors thought it was best.
Supporters of the Pardo family have also made another counter-argument to this point of the affidavit. They claim that Dr. Dakil said in her testimony that the only recorded time that the family tried finding a doctor for a second opinion to establish that Drake did not need major surgery.
The Texan spoke with Andrew Brown, the Director of the Center for Families and Children at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), who attended the hearing.
Brown said that it was revealed in the hearing that Drake had surgery on a brain malformation around a year and a half ago. “Through the testimony, it came out that the parents sought multiple opinions to avoid that surgery,” said Brown.
Another major point of contention concerning the possibility of medical child abuse is whether or not Drake’s health has improved since his removal.
According to Dr. Dakil, the parents’ description of Drake’s health—including the difficulty they said he had in eating—did not line up with what the doctors had seen in his admission to Children’s after the removal.
Some who testified at the hearing claimed that Drake’s health had improved in several ways: he had been successfully potty-trained, no longer needed his wheelchair, and was able to eat a regular diet.
As mentioned in Weintraub’s article, separation tests such as this one can be misleading if not all factors are taken into consideration. Supporters of the family have pointed out other such factors that may have been overlooked.
In regards to the first claim, Ashley also testified that it was requested that she bring a box of pull-ups for Drake when they visited him five days later.
The Pardos’ supporters have also pointed out that Drake only needed to use a wheelchair after walking long distances and that being confined to a hospital would not necessitate its use.
How well Drake was actually eating was a point of contention at the hearing.
Drake lost six pounds between the removal and hearing. Medical staff at the hearing said that this weight loss was due to his plateauing to a normal weight after removing his NG tube.
Brown said that the cases he has seen involving clear medical child abuse show a “pattern of escalation” where the abuser prompts more and more invasive surgeries and seeks out more and more sympathy through fundraisers and social media.
“The odd part about this case is that it doesn’t fully fit that pattern,” said Brown. “You could leave the courtroom basically with the conclusion that this is a really involved, perhaps overly protective parent, but there is a genuine desire to figure out what’s wrong.”
According to Brown, the judge asked the parents if they would follow the treatment plan of the hospital, and the parents said they would do whatever they need to in order to make sure their son was healthy.
Like any case involving claims of medical child abuse, there is a complicated medical history that will need to be thoroughly reviewed to invalidate the allegations against the Pardos.
However, claims of medical child abuse are only part of the complications in this case.
Allegations Against CPS
Another key factor brought up in the case is whether or not CPS acted legally and in accordance with the policies and procedures it is required to operate under.
“I assumed [the hearing] was going to really focus in on a battle of medical experts,” Brown said, “but what was interesting about the hearing is it really came down to the process that the law requires CPS to go through before they take the drastic step of removal.”
In particular, Brown said that there were two main questions for CPS: did they do everything they could to prevent the removal and did they meet their evidentiary burden of proving that an emergency necessitated the removal?
According to Texas Family Code, before a court can allow CPS to remove a child, “reasonable efforts, consistent with the circumstances and providing for the safety of the child, [must be] made to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the child.”
As reported earlier, the family’s lawyers said they reached out to CPS before the removal requesting disclosure of the allegations made against them, but everyone at CPS refused to tell them the allegations.
Brown said that the main argument CPS made during the hearing was that the Pardos were not cooperating with the investigation.
The alleged lack of cooperation was due to Branson’s refusal to allow CPS to meet with the family before disclosing the allegations made against them.
Since they were allegedly not cooperating, CPS claimed they were forced to resort to an emergency court order to remove Drake.
However, Brown said that if the family was truly not cooperating, CPS did not need to immediately resort to an emergency court order.
“There are tools in that process that CPS could have used,” said Brown. “There’s something called an order in aid of investigation and it is designed for this very scenario.”
If granted by the court, the order would force the family to cooperate with the investigation without requiring the removal of the child.
Another option that Brown said CPS could have pursued is a safety plan, an agreement between CPS and the family where the family promises to follow certain requirements.
The two points of contention—the allegations of medical child abuse against the Pardos and the allegations of an improper investigation against CPS—have yet to be resolved.
The Texan will continue investigating and reporting on the case as more details unfold.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.