October 6, 2014 (San Diego)--The County is violating constitutional rights of children and their parents by conducting intrusive medical exams on youngsters, federal judge Thomas Whelan has ruled. The examinations have been routinely conducted on all children brought to the Polinsky Children’s Center, the county’s emergency shelter by social workers, UT San Diego reports. The tests include genital and anal exams, or what amounts to strip searches without parental notification or consent.
Back in 2013, CityBeat reported on the problem and indicated that 2,000 children a year are placed in the county center. The article documented past legal cases in which federal courts have imposed limits on intrusive medical exams of children.
The suit was filed by parents of a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old child who were taken from their home by county social workers in 2011 after one of the children was reportedly injured at a day care center. The family’s doctors had examined the children and did not suspect abuse, but the children were removed by the county anyway. The young children underwent the intrusive exams of their private areas, as well as drug tests and a skeletal exam on one of the children.
Steven and Joanna Swartwood sued the County. Their lawyer contends that the exams, which the County has conducted on all children entering the facility for the past 10 years, amount to an illegal search for evidence against parents disguised as medical checks for diseases or other health issues. Parents do sign a consent form but are not told about the invasive nature of the exam, nor that medical treatment is generally not offered at the facility except in cases such as a contagious condition.
Charles Wilson, executive director of Rady's Chadwick Center for Children and Families, has previously said that the purpose of the county’s exams is to assure good medical health, adding that they're similar to a thorough medical examination in any good pediatric checkup, CityBeat reported.
But Judge Whelan agreed that with the parents’ lawyer that these searches are investigatory in nature and violate children’s protections against illegal searches.
If the exams are halted, how might the County obtain proof of suspected abuse, to assure that children who are being molested can be protected?
The family’s attorney contends that instead of doing genital exams and other intrusive procedures on all children in the facility, the County should obtain a court order first if there is reasonable cause to suspect sexual abuse. No trial date has been set yet in the case.
UT San Diego reports that the family’s attorney, Donnie Cox, says the County has ignored prior federal court rulings, which held that such exams cannot be done. He aims to seek a temporary restraining order against the county to stop all exams at the Polinsky Children’s Center, except those that are clearly medically necessary.
A spokesman for Supervisor Dianne Jacob told ECM that the county counsel’s office is reviewing the Whelan ruling and the Board of Supervisors will take it up at their next closed session.