A homeschool family wants Child Protective Services to return their 4-year-old son who the parents say was unfairly removed from their home late last month. CPS accused the parents of medical child abuse.
Drake Pardo was taken into CPS custody on June 20 on the authority of a court-ordered emergency removal the agency obtained after voicing concerns to a judge that the family of Kemp, Texas, missed a CPS-facilitated meeting with a doctor at Dallas Children’s Medical Center, some 45 minutes to over an hour's drive away.
The family’s lawyers at the Texas Home School Coalition argue that CPS failed to meet the legal requirements for emergency removal and also failed to inform the family of the June 10 meeting with Dr. Suzanne Dakil, a child abuse pediatrician.
Dakil had reached out to CPS with concerns that the Pardo family was seeking unneeded medical treatment for their son, whom they believe has autism and other conditions.
According to court documents obtained by local news outlet inForney.com, CPS asked for the removal based on concerns that Ashley Pardo, Drake’s mother, was “displaying symptoms” of a condition where an individual believes the person he or she is caring for has a physical or mental illness.
Pardo was accused of “exaggerating and lying about [her son’s] symptoms and conditions” and “demanding an unnecessary surgical procedure to place a G-tube.”
Jeremy Newman, director of public policy for the Texas Home School Coalition, told The Christian Post that the CPS cited the family’s failure to attend the June 10 meeting and the ensuing affidavit from Dakil in its request for emergency removal.
Newman said that the family received a notice from CPS on their door on June 7. And on June 20, Drake Pardo was removed from the home without the family being provided an official copy of accusations against them.
In the first week of July, District Judge Mike Chitty issued a temporary order allowing CPS to maintain custody of the child.
Newman, who was present for the hearing, said that the CPS caseworker testified that she never informed the family of the June 10 meeting because of the “aggressive” nature displayed by the family’s lawyer when he refused to travel from Dallas to Houston in order to receive a copy of the allegations against the family.
“When asked why she didn't tell them, her explanation was that the family's attorney has been too aggressive toward her and so she didn't follow up to inform them of that meeting,” Newman said. “But then they also cited the family's failure to attend that meeting as one of the two major things that created the need for emergency removal.”
The second reason for removal was Dakil’s affidavit.
Newman, however, says Dakil testified during the hearing that she never requested the child be removed from the family. Newman warned that the agency failed to exhaust all of its other legal options for intervening in the case before seeking the option to remove the child from the home, something the agency is legally required to do.
Pardo had also been accused of switching doctors when she doesn't agree with their assessment.
"According to Dr. Dakil's uncontested testimony at the hearing, the family has only switched doctors one time," Newman told CP. "They switched from one doctor inside Children's to another doctor inside the exact same office. The reason for this switch, which Dr. Dakil admitted she was not aware of the reason, is because the first doctor refused to visit Drake for several days while he was admitted to the hospital. The family fired him, switched to another doctor in the same office, and filed a formal complaint against the first doctor."
Newman explained that Dakil's concern that the family could be seeking a feeding tube for their son was "speculative" and that the family had not given her any reason to believe they were planning to do that.
"She also testified that she wanted Drake to have a feeding study to determine whether he needed a feeding tube," Newman detailed. "She acknowledged in testimony that the only reason the family had declined the feeding study is that it is a 12-week in-patient study and they were unable to afford it. The family learned for the first time at the hearing that there was also an option for a local feeding study conducted by another facility. The family said they were happy to do this study but had never been told about it."
Newman also explained that Dakil never actually met with the Pardo family in person and did an “incomplete review” of the family’s case. He said that the hospital did not have access to a letter of diagnosis for autism that Pardo had received from another doctor.
“So the doctor kind of punted and basically said, ‘Look, I have no way to confirm or rule out my concerns until I had a conversation with the family. And I haven't done that yet. My job is just to report my concern and it is CPS’ job to investigate,’” Newman recalled from the hearing. “And CPS punted right back and said, ‘Look, we're not doctors, we're just taking the doctor's concern seriously.’ So my distinct impression of the hearing was neither side wanted to take responsibility.”
Although Chitty’s order keeps Pardo in CPS custody, Newman believes that Chitty was trying to make a compromise.
“In the judge’s eyes, he made a compromise to say, ‘I'm going to give CPS everything they asked for but then I'm going to assure everybody that we're going to try and get this kid home real soon,’” Newman said.
“And he considered that to be a compromised position where everybody in the courtroom looked at this and said, ‘CPS failed to prove every item they are required to approve, and you're still giving them everything they asked for.’”
Newman said that Chitty did not set a deadline for Drake Pardo’s return. He added that Dakil’s “entire recommendation” was that doctors and the parents have more intentional and clear communication with each other.
“She didn't think removal of the child was necessary. She was surprised they chose to remove the child,” Newman said. “And her recommendations for how to best care for the child going forward, she wasn't sure how they could be met as long as he remained in CPS care.”
“So it kind of begs this huge question: if communication was the only thing lacking and all the parties have agreed to communicate, why did they let CPS keep the child?” Newman asked. “And my personal assessment at the hearing was the judge and CPS, and the case worker and a couple of the other court-appointed specialists, they all seem to approach it from the perspective of removing the child unnecessarily isn't a big deal as long as we get him back relatively soon. They kind of treat it with like a no-harm-no-foul perspective.’”
Newman said that the family is mulling whether to appeal the judge’s temporary order to the state appellate court. But a high burden of proof is required for the state appellate court to step in an overturn a district judge's temporary order mid-case, Newman admitted.
The Pardo family's case has drawn the ire of Republican state Sen. Bob Hall who called the judge’s ruling “the most egregious display of injustice” he has seen. According to The Texan, Hall argued that there is “zero evidence” against the family.
“[Judge Chitty’s] mind was made up, before the trial even started,” Hall was quoted as saying.
The Texas CPS has faced scrutiny in the past over its removal of children from family homes.
Last November, Texas CPS was ordered to pay $127,000 for illegally removing two children from a Tomball family’s home and lying about the case in court.
Texas CPS was ordered by a Houston judge to pay $27,000 in 2016 for misleading the court in order to remove a child deemed not to have been in imminent danger. In 2011, the CPS was sanctioned $32,000 by a judge who ruled that the agency acted in “bad faith” in securing the removal of three children.
“Removing the child is not a neutral action,” Newman said. “There are lifelong consequences that most children suffer because of that type of trauma. And the whole point of state intervention is to keep the child from being traumatized."