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Missouri lawmaker drafts bill to protect families who may be innocent during child abuse investigations

I’ve been shocked by how badly things can go
basch and egleston families.jpg
Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 18:33:13-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the Basch and Egelston families, their journeys through the child welfare system began with a bruise.

In 2020, Cayleigh Egelston took her 5-month-old to her pediatrician in Kansas City after noticing a large bruise on her daughter.

"When I went to change her I noticed a bruise up her back," Cayleigh said. "I panicked."

Babies who haven't started walking don't bruise often.

With a family history of blood cancer, and bruising being one of the signs, Egelston, a pediatric nurse, had good reason to worry.

She felt relief when her daughter's lab tests came back normal.

That feeling of relief lasted only a moment.

Shortly after the appointment, Cayleigh said she received a call that she had to take her daughter to the Children's Mercy SCAN clinic for an abuse evaluation.

"I started bawling. I just instantly, instantly started bawling," she said.

Children's Mercy diagnosed the 5-month-old with physical child abuse, despite no other findings on imaging, according to her daughter's medical records.

The next few months became a blur for the Egelston family. Both Cayleigh and her husband Chase Egelston were listed as suspects of abuse in a police report.

They had to have a social worker come into their home on a weekly basis, attend family court hearings and parenting classes.

This went on for four months until Cayleigh noticed a popping sound coming from her daughter's hip.

Cayleigh's daughter was referred back to Children's Mercy where a doctor diagnosed her daughter with hip displasea.

Case closed.

Missouri Sen. Mike Cierpiot has drafted a bill that he hopes will protect families like the Egelstons.

On Tuesday, Cierpiot will plans to introduce new legislation that addresses a number of things he wants to change when it comes to how cases of abuse are investigated, which addresses Children's Mercy SCAN Clinic.

For instance, current law states claims of child abuse shall be investigated by the state. However, Cierpiot said the state sometimes leans on Children's Mercy SCAN clinic's investigations instead of conducting one of it's own.

"It will say that the department needs to go out and look at some things beside the scan report," Cierpiot said.

Medical workers are mandatory reporters of child abuse.

Five months ago, when the I-Team spoke to the Egelston's, Children's Mercy explained their obligation.

Dr. Lisa Schroeder, chief medical officer at Children's Mercy, said the law is broad and staff are required to report even the slightest suspicion of abuse.

"Imagine the devastation if we didn't report it and somebody that you didn't even know was injuring your child and we missed those early signs and the child comes back with a worse injury or something devastating," Schroeder said.

The KSHB I-Team first spoke to the Egelstons in October, along with several other couples.

In March, 2021, Katie and Kyle Basch took their son Wyatt to Children's Mercy because of vomiting.

While there, medical staff noticed a suspicious bruise on Wyatt's back in the shape of finger prints.

Kyle reported he'd been throwing Wyatt up and down in the air that week. Katie said she had a history of easy bruising and that's the only explanation they had.

Wyatt underwent two x-rays, which revealed a rib fracture, according to a Children's Mercy radiologist.

The diagnosed fracture was on the opposite side of the bruising. The Basches said Wyatt went to gymnastics that week and never complained about being in pain, which was confusing to them.

"At that point, I asked, 'Can I see the x-ray?' And he's like, 'Well, no but I can get you the radiologist report,'" Kyle said.

Katie said she began to doubt the diagnosis. She also began to doubt herself.

"I was devastated," Katie said. "If this in fact was the truth, how did I, a stay at home mom, miss that?"

Katie said she remembers a conversation with the state social worker that frightened her.

"She was like, 'Well, they're wanting to remove him from your care, they're wanting you to go recreate these injuries," Katie said. "That was the worst moment of my life. I have never cried so hard and I've never been so scared of losing my kid."

Like the Egelstons, the Basches are also listed as suspects in a police report. Katie remembers the moment she was told the police were called.

"I really lost it," Katie said. "I basically fell to my knees crying."

The Basches were allowed to take Wyatt home under the condition that a social worker would visit the house the next day.

"She immediately looked at him and she laughed that the bruises were called significant," Kyle said. "She goes, 'My 4-year-old has double these bruises right now, so I'm not sure what they're looking at."

Case closed.

They state did not substantiate the abuse in both the Egelston and Basch cases.

In October, Dr. Schroeder sympathized with families who go through the child welfare system and may be innocent.

"That makes me sad," Schroeder said.

Dr. Schroeder also admitted the science for determining whether or not a child has been abused isn't always exact and acknowledges the impact on innocent families.

"It's actually one of the things that keeps me awake at night," Schroeder said.

The Basches told the I-Team they had other concerns during their experience. They said they struggled to get their son's medical records from Children's Mercy.

Documents show the Basches requested Wyatt's x-ray films. Children's Mercy denied the family's request, citing safety concerns.

Cierpiot's bill addresses that.

The bill states parents will be allowed full access to their child's medical records.

Additionally, Cierpiot's bill will provide legal counsel to families who are considered low income and have a child under the age of 4.

"Most parents, I have found, they get involved in this thing, they just want out, " Cierpiot said. "They want their kids back and they'll sign anything you put in front of them to bring this to an end."

Cierpiot said he watched the I-Team's story about the Egelston and Basch families and was shocked.

"It was eye-opening with those two couples," Cierpiot said. "I've been shocked how badly things can go."

Cierpoit's bill is personal, though. He said it's a family member who sent him KSHB's report.

"My family called and said, 'Make sure you see this because it's similar to what we're dealing with," Cierpiot said.

While the investigation into the Egelston and Basch families is over, the trauma of being suspected of abuse and the fear of losing their children has yet to go away.

"I feel like i have PTSD," Cayleigh Egelston siad. "I don't feel like i can be a normal mom who lets my kid play because I'm scared of every bruise she gets now."

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