‘Child Protection’ as a Weapon

‘Child Protection’ as a Weapon

Fear of child protection services is common among victims of obstetric violence.

Within obstetrics and maternity care, as well as in surrounding culture, it is pervasively assumed, often implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that a mother who declines a treatment, objects to a medical recommendation, criticizes obstetrical practices, or opts to take responsibility for her own prenatal care, is thereby recklessly endangering her child.

This is a falsehood and a moral hazard.

And yet it is widely believed, and often suggested by medical workers in positions of power, that a mother’s rejection of a given medical intervention, even her refusal to accept painful, violent and sexually violating procedures in the absence of any medical emergency, constitutes child endangerment, and therefore justifies the forceful extralegal intrusion of child protection services, possibly resulting in consequences ranging from invasion of privacy to prolonged physical separation from her newborn.

Fear of this threat is ubiquitous and paralyzingly powerful. It is also typically held in silence, as to discuss it exposes a mother to suspicion. Why would she have a problem with child protection, unless she has a guilty mind and something to hide? But the true answer is clear: sometimes, powerful public servants in positions of trust are the ones who are corrupt. Sometimes, the medical professionals are the ones who have something to hide.

The looming threat of child protection involvement enables powerful, respected, institutionally-shielded medical professionals to effectively force unnecessary medical treatment on extremely vulnerable women, including painful and sexually violating treatment, and thus to reap the financial and institutional benefits of performing that treatment, despite its illegality. Without proper checks and balances, child protection services can also be used as a tool to obstruct justice in retaliation if a new mother musters up the strength to explicitly accuse a medical professional of a crime. New mothers can not reasonably be expected to have the time, energy or emotional strength to defend themselves from this potentiality. And so the threat works, often in perfect silence.

One of MASC’s many goals is to develop a positive relationship with child protection service institutions across Canada, both to protect families from harassment, and to prevent those institutions wasting time that would be better spent investigating legitimate claims. When child protection agents receive reports of active or potential child endangerment from health workers in the realm of maternity care, those cases should always go through MASC — or at least be subject to additional stipulations and standards approved by MASC — before the targeted family is approached.

Strategies for mediating these situations fairly, in order to protect innocent families from harassment and obstruction without abandoning genuinely at-risk children, are currently in development. Strategies are likely to first and foremost require medical staff to subject themselves to the same degree of investigation and transparency as child protective services requires of families under investigation; and to verbally acknowledge that including falsehoods in a report is tantamount to obstruction of justice, an indictable offense.

Page last updated April 18, 2020.