His story demonstrates the remarkable power granted to child abuse pediatricians, a small but growing subspecialty of doctors who work closely with child welfare agencies and whose work was the subject of an NBC News and Houston Chronicle investigation. Some of the doctors have at times overstated the certainty of their conclusions, the investigation found. Child welfare agencies and law enforcement officials often rely on their reports as the sole basis for removing children and filing criminal charges, sometimes in spite of contradictory opinions from other medical specialists.
The article on Cox’s case also detailed a growing rift at Children’s Wisconsin between its small team of child abuse pediatricians and several treating physicians who say members of the abuse team go too far in their efforts to assist Child Protective Services and prosecutors.
A dozen members of the hospital’s medical staff spoke to a reporter on the condition of anonymity, worried that they would be punished for discussing their concerns publicly. Two more have contacted a reporter since the story was published.
The doctors described an “out of control” child abuse team that is too quick to report minor injuries to authorities and that is too closely aligned with state child welfare investigators. Three of the physicians recalled being pressured by some child abuse pediatricians to alter medical records, removing passages where they had initially reported having little or no concerns about abuse, though there’s no evidence that happened in Cox’s case.
The NBC News article also detailed several disagreements between child abuse pediatricians and other members of the medical staff who reviewed Cox’s case. A Children’s Wisconsin dermatologist reported that a child abuse specialist had mistakenly reported birthmarks as bruises. And four Children’s Wisconsin hematologists reported that a child abuse pediatrician misinterpreted a key test that pointed to a possible bleeding disorder that may have predisposed the baby to easy bruising.
In the letter to staff Monday, hospital leaders said the child abuse team knows best in these matters.
“Our child advocacy providers receive specific training to identify child abuse or neglect and to rule out abuse or neglect where other injuries or conditions might mimic it,” Duncan and Turner wrote. “While all pediatric specialists have extensive training in their chosen fields, only child abuse pediatricians have that particular expertise.”
At a hearing Tuesday morning in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, a judge issued an order prohibiting all parties involved in Cox’s case from discussing it publicly, according to WTMJ, an NBC affiliate in Wisconsin.
Deputy District Attorney Matthew Torbenson requested the gag order last week after a reporter for NBC News contacted him requesting an interview.
On Monday, Cox’s lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the state lacked evidence to bring criminal charges. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Feb. 12.