“Parents have rights,” he said, “And they make the decision for their children.”
– Jack Kowalski
Throughout the nation, parents encounter challenges as authorities attempt to replace parents and eliminate their God-given right to authority over their care and medical decisions. In a landmark trial prominently featured in the Netflix documentary Take Care of Maya, the recent jury decision highlighted the critical importance of a parent’s right to direct their children’s medical care.
ER Visit Leads to Family Separation
In 2016, Maya Kowalski, age 10, was rushed to All Children’s Hospital of St. Petersburg, Florida, for a flare-up of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). At this point, Maya had been living with CRPS for a year and was being treated by a CRPS specialist. However, when Maya arrived at All Children’s in October 2016, the doctors there were unfamiliar with CRPS and questioned the treatment she had been receiving.
However, when her parents insisted on continuing the treatments prescribed by the specialist doctor, a child welfare agency doctor who specializes in “detecting child abuse” evaluated Maya and opened an abuse investigation. Following this evaluation, Maya was restricted from visiting her parents and kept in the hospital for three months despite her parent’s attempts to discharge her.
Maya’s parents found themselves excluded from being at her side, unable to offer comfort during this traumatic experience.
While restricted from her parents and kept in the hospital, Maya’s symptoms worsened. Maya’s parents, Jack and Beata Kowalski, found themselves caught in a legal battle to assert their parental rights.
During the trial, it came out that “In Pinellas County [Maya’s home county], children are almost two and a half times more likely to be removed from their families than the state average.” (source)
The unfounded accusations of medical child abuse led to acute stress and grief reactions for Maya’s parents. The struggle reached its tragic climax when Beata Kowalski took her own life.
“An attorney for the Kowalskis, Jennifer Anderson, said that Maya’s parents had been following orders from a doctor who had previously treated her pain syndrome, and the complaint said that Ms. Kowalski had experienced ‘Acute Stress Reaction and Grief reaction’ after being accused of child abuse and having her daughter taken away. In short, the actions of the Defendants and their agents drove both parents, but especially Beata, as she was also accused of abusing her beloved daughter inexorably towards the most extreme of human behavior,” the complaint read.” (source)
Fast forward to November 10, 2023, when a Florida jury delivered a resounding verdict against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. The hospital was ordered to pay $261 million in compensatory and punitive damages after the family sought justice for false imprisonment, battery, medical negligence, and emotional distress.
The jury’s decision reinforces the principle that parents have the right to direct their children’s medical care.
It also highlights the reason why: Parents are not just the parties who love their children most; they are also the ones most equipped to protect their child. Interference in a parent’s right to raise their child does not simply harm the parent; it harms the child.
In response to the verdict, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital announced plans to appeal, emphasizing adherence to protocols on suspected child abuse. The legal battle has unveiled systemic issues within the child welfare system and emphasizes the ongoing threat against parental rights that comes from institutions and outside entities assuming too much power over the parent-child relationship.
The Take Care of Maya trial serves as a poignant reminder of the paramount importance of parental rights in directing children’s medical care. The jury’s decision not only provides financial compensation to the Kowalski family but also underscores a renewed commitment to respecting the rights of parents in their children’s medical journey.
Even as this case took place in Florida, families in Texas have and will continue to face similar threats as Maya’s family faced.
In Texas, a child removed by CPS stands only a 35% chance of being reunited with their parents.
Despite the state having a legal mandate to prioritize finding a way to return children safely to their homes, 65% of children removed by CPS never return home.
CPS and courts in Texas have historically interpreted the Family Code liberally, permitting the termination of parental rights for conduct deemed “dangerous” without necessarily posing an actual threat to the specific child. This broad interpretation heightens the potential for unjust terminations.
This is why the Family Freedom Project is urging the Texas Supreme Court to mandate that any determination of “endangerment” is linked to a tangible risk of harm to the parent’s actual child rather than a hypothetical risk to an imagined child.