Can you explain how a small child is struck multiple times but has no internal injuries, no broken bones, nothing. And her response was, your child was very lucky.
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Hey everybody, it's Sally Hendrick with Shout Your Cause Again, and today I've got special guests with me, Candace and Josh Odom, and we're going to be talking a bit about a case that they have gone through. What state are you guys in?
They're in Alabama and I think the Department of Human Human Services, what's it called?
Department of Human Resources.
Department of Human Resources. DHR is the same thing as like DHS or CPS Child Protective Services, a similar type of agency in Alabama. Thank you. Welcome to the Your Cause Podcast.
Podcast. Yes, thank you for having us.
Awesome. I wanted to go a little bit into, well, what about before all this started, what was life like before the investigation you ended up having?
Life was, it was perfect. I mean, we were just living our lives as a married couple working. Our oldest son that was involved in the case, he was actually conceived through IVF, so that was our journey for several years as newlyweds, trying to conceive our first baby who is ultimately our little miracle and was born in December of 2018 and then we had wanted a second, but I was expecting it to be difficult like the first, but to our joyous surprise, in January of 2020, of course right before Covid found out I was pregnant with baby brother. So we were just on cloud nine right before this happened, raising our oldest son and preparing for his brother to arrive that we were so just ecstatic with that.
We conceived him naturally just and he was on his way. We were going to be raising our two boys and just life was blissful and just living our everyday lives and just, you never think that something like this is going to happen to you. I had a lot of preconceived notions about our child welfare system and maybe the types of families that were involved in it, but that's gone now. I mean, I know it's a completely different side to it, completely different story, and it just opened my eyes to a world that I didn't know existed. Me and my husband are part of a club that I don't think either of us ever anticipated that we would be in, but we believe we went through this for a reason that God can bring beauty and a purpose out of our tragedy. And so we're using that now to bring awareness to what we went through. So first of all, other parents can be aware that this does happen, unfortunately every day in our medical community, and to know what their rights are so that they can better protect themselves and to ultimately bring awareness for change at the state level and federal level in regards to child welfare reform.
Exactly. And speaking of child welfare reform, Connie regularly is the person who introduced me to you guys. And how is it that you got to know Connie?
Well, shortly after our case was closed, I just started researching different ways to make our voice known. I shared our story on a great organization. They're on social media, Facebook, TikTok, parents behind the pin wheels because as you know, typically the blue pen wheel represents abuse every April, and you see the blue pinwheels outside of hospitals, child advocacy centers, and there's stories sometimes behind those pinwheels. I'm not so naive as to say that some of those are not true. I'm absolutely sure that a lot of them are. But also there's another side to those blue pin wheels, hence the name Parents Behind the Pin wheels. And I shared our story there and then just started connecting with people from the Family Ford project. And then ultimately me and my husband were both fortunate enough to go to DC over the summer as part of the Family Ford Project to meet and speak with our legislators about these issues. And we met Connie there and she's just fabulous.
That's awesome. I went with Connie the year before to DC to write a story on what they were doing, and I ended up interviewing about five or six people as a result of that interaction in dc. It was fascinating to go and to see how it is and how much work it takes to get recognized by people in Congress.
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So let's talk about specifically what happened in June, 2020. Basically, you told me before that your son wasn't transitioning to his crib, he was banging his head, and obviously that would be causing bruises, right? I used to do that as a child. My mom told me that I did that when I was a baby, and I kind of remember, or maybe I just remember the story, but there was something that happened one night and his face was bloodied. So what exactly transpired at that point?
Well, obviously finding him like that. We as parents panicked and with the way he looked, I was anticipating him to be severely injured. We both were scared to death. We rushed him to our local er. I, of course was not allowed back due to covid restrictions, one parent only, and they made me stay outside because I was five months pregnant with our other son. And so I was having to sit outside just in a panic. I heard Josh when he ran in with him to the little triage area. He's like, I have my son here. He said, I believe he's really hit his head and has a head injury. And so they took him on back and then it was probably maybe an hour and a half, two hours, my husband texted me. He was like, good news. His imaging came back. He has no internal injuries, but they're not really sure what's going on.
He said they think maybe an allergic reaction because the face is swollen, but they're not sure. They don't know. And so then finally they let me come back and the doctor there was telling me that, she's like, I don't think that this is abuse. She said, this is a very, very odd case. She said, I really think we need to get him to the children's hospital to a specialist to be evaluated. And we agreed to that. We had been to this hospital for previous services and we were very pleased, and as a parent, you want the best for your child. So we were absolutely transferring. And so he was life flighted there. Of course, we weren't allowed to go with him, so we had to drive in our car and we're probably about two hours, two and a half hours from Birmingham we're driving and I get a phone call from the Children's Hospital saying, your son's arrived in our er.
He's in a lot of pain. He's screaming, he's crying. Do we have your permission to give more things? And so you hear your child's in pain, so yes, absolutely. Do whatever you need to do until we can get there. And I hung up the phone and my husband was like, well, who is that? I said, it was the children's hospital, the ER doctor letting me know that he got there and they're saying that he's in a lot of pain and they wanted permission to give morphine. That was just the first turn of the complete. We got one version at one hospital and then another version at the Children's Hospital. My husband was like, well, that's interesting. He said, because the ER doctor and the nurse during examination at the local ER pushed on his face and he gave no response that he was in pain. And so now looking back, we just think he was scared. I mean, he was 18 months old, didn't have his mom and dad and was surrounded by strangers poking and prodding him.
But basically what happened though, once they got him over at the children's hospital, that's where the investigation kind of kicked in, right?
And then we get there and we get up to his room and that's where we meet the doctor. I'm not going to say her name. She introduces herself as the physical injury specialist. And we as parents we're very distraught and she's asking all of these questions, we're answering 'em to the best of our ability. She's got a camera, she's taking photos. We also noticed that she had him in a neck brace and we asked why was he in the neck brace? He wasn't in a neck brace at the previous hospital, and his scans there were fine. She basically said, well, they're not my scans and he's going to be in the neck brace until we get more scans, just doing very invasive exams when our little boy, that was very traumatizing to see, but we didn't realize at the time that basically this was an interrogation to see what our answers were.
Obviously as a mama and then also being pregnant on top of that, I was very emotional, so I was going and answering some of the questions, but my husband was answering the questions as best he could, but he also would come back and ask her questions and she would kind of just dodge around 'em, really wouldn't give an answer. And then she left. Then she came back the next day and said he would need a full body scan, even though, I mean there were no bruises or any other area of concern, but she's like, he needs a full body scan
Then, if I may. And so when the other specialists would round in, the neurologist came in, he asked us, why is the child in a neck brace? And my response was, well, I don't know your people put him in a neck brace. Maybe you could tell us. And he said, well, he doesn't need to be in a neck brace. And so he kind of had a disagreement with the abuse specialist, but the other specialists who ran it in, they all said they thought one thing, but ultimately their response was, well, we're just going to default to Dr. So-and-so and so
Default to the doctor that was investigating.
And when I was able to kind of regain my composure, I just was not getting a good vibe from her. So I went to the hospital's website and looked her up and it had the title child abuse pediatrician. And that's when I told my husband, I said, do you realize what they're accusing us of? Do you realize what's happening? And my husband was trying to keep me calm. He's like, they're doing their job. The truth will come out. We didn't harm our son. But it just took on a life of its own. Once her report was typed up saying that it was physical abuse that he was struck is what she was saying with fist, that he was struck multiple times. And I know the second day that she was there, my husband did ask her, well, can you explain how a small child is struck multiple times but has no internal injuries, no broken bones, nothing. And her response was, your child was very lucky.
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That was the response we got. And I mean, I have family members also that work in the medical field, so I was texting and calling them, and so we were asking medical questions that they didn't like. They wouldn't, didn't want to give answers. I was told by one family member that if the imaging of the head was fine at the first hospital, you're basically dosing a child with unnecessary radiation doing all of those multiple secondary scans. But ultimately, he was removed from our care that Saturday night. I'll never forget that phone call for the rest of my life telling me that I've got to pick a family member to take my son or he's going to go into foster care that we're not going to be able to see our son. So we arranged for my mother-in-Law and my husband's mom to take him. We're signing this safety plan is what they called it in a dark parking garage at two o'clock in the morning saying that we're going to do all of these things. We're not going to have contact with our son that my mother-in-law will take care of 'em.
How long did this go on with him staying at your mother-in-law's?
He was ultimately with my mother-in-Law until October of 2021.
And how often did you see him in that time?
We didn't see him for the first five months. We had absolutely no contact with our son.
So when we saw him in the hospital last and he was a baby, and by the time we saw him again, he was a little boy. So we completely missed that transition.
Wow. Did she keep you updated with pictures or anything?
She did like the best she could. Finally, it was, well, she had had him for about two weeks and one of the caseworkers came to the house for the visit and she basically asked my mother-in-Law, well, what do you think happened? I have the child abuse pediatrician's report saying that he was abused, and I've got these pictures and my mother-in-Law just, she said, well, I was there in the hospital, I know what he looks like, but I know my son and my daughter-in-Law and they didn't do this. So she said, okay. So she left, went back to the county where we live. That was the county that was working the case, which is two hours from where my mother-in-Law and our son was went back, filed a dependency petition on our child, and then came back at seven o'clock that night with five sheriff deputies and removed our son from her care because she lacked protective capacity is what they wrote in the petition
Because she told the truth.
Yeah, because she gave
Opinion. So not that she wasn't taking care of him or anything like that, but just that she didn't agree with their findings. And also at this point, she had been telling the worker, he's been with me for two weeks and I've noticed concerns. She's like, he will not sleep at night. And he was starting to bang his head on stuff in my mother-in-law's home. He would bang his head into the wall, he would bang it into the cabinets. And she had actually started very smartly recording it on her phone to show them, look, he is starting this here too, and I'm concerned. And they basically blew it off. Well, we don't have services. He's too young. There's nothing for him.
We went and found services for him and we don't even have the resources that the state of Alabama has at their disposal.
But they claimed there were services available for 'em, but yet we found some.
So ultimately what ended up happening, did you keep custody of your second son and what happened?
Well, I can't say too much on that case, but I had him that October. While of course the case was still open, I had not even delivered him five hours. And there was the DHR worker saying that they were going to file for a pickup order for him to remove him from our care. And I remember you've just given birth and you're hearing this information. It's very, I just feel inhumane and degrading. But I remember asking her, well, I said, worst case scenario, if the judge grants it, I said, I'm that he will go to my mother-in-Law since she already has my oldest son. And she said, no, he'll go to foster care. My supervisor said, your mother-in-Law can't have him.
And so then she leaves and she comes back the next morning and she said, well, I have good news. The judge denied our pickup order. So she was like, but everything, and this was another thing that was just so frustrating. Everything was my supervisor said that was like the line that we heard so many times was my supervisor said, but she said, my supervisor said, y'all have to do an in-home safety plan. Somebody has to move in with y'all and supervise y'all 24 7. And we got our lawyer on the phone and she was like, no. She said, the judge didn't even grant y'all visitation to come and check on this child. He denied y'all's order. No, this baby is going home with his parents. And they went outside, talked to the pediatrician on call and all the hospital staff. And long story short, they held my newborn basically illegally for 48 hours until we could get to court. So I had my breastfeeding interrupted.
We live probably about 40 minutes from the hospital where I delivered. They acted like they were doing me a favor. They were like, well, Ms. Odom, you can come and visit the nursery's open every four hours. You can come visit and you can bring your breast milk. During that time, they didn't even send me a pump home with me. So I had to, my mom and my husband had to go out and get a pump for me. I'm very upset that I've lost my first child. And now I'm just so upset because a judge said that I could take my baby home, but yet he's being held at a hospital because DHR said so, not because the law said so, but because DHR said, so they think incorrectly that they are the law.
So what has happened since then with the case? Is everything done with your oldest son?
Yes, both of course, our newborn, he was returned when we went to court. The judge was like, I didn't even give y'all custody of this child. Parents go pick up your baby at the hospital. But ultimately, our oldest son, he was returned to our care in October, 2021. We were very fortunate that we were able to hire an attorney that first of all believed in both of our innocents before we met the attorney that we hired. We had several appointments with other attorneys, and their solution was for me to kick dad out of the house. They were like, if you ever want to see your kids again, you're going to have to basically divorce your husband or you're never going to see your kids again. And that was not an option for me. I knew my husband did not do anything, and I was determined that my boys were going to come home to both of their parents.
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So we had an attorney that one believed in our innocence and two fall, she didn't make any promises, but she's like, I'm going to do everything in my power to get your son home. And we ultimately hired an expert, and this is where it actually got interesting going back to when our son was removed and put in foster care for 24 hours when we had that hearing. And my mother-in-law brought up to the judge the behaviors she was seeing. The judge ordered my mother-in-Law to start video recording all of these instances, and I lost track of how many videos she got of him at night doing this behavior. But sure enough, on the crib one night she heard him in there and she went and turned on the TV and he was standing up hitting his head from side to side on the exact pattern of how his injuries were
Now, obviously she went in there and intervened. But by the time she got in there, he even had a small little area on his forehead that had formed. But we sent those of course, to the court. Our expert got all of those videos as well, and he started to suspect autism spectrum disorder with self-injurious behavior. We also got a local child psychologist who did her own evaluation, and she diagnosed him with that. And our behavioral pediatrician, I mean, he did basically the same type of evaluation that the child psychologist did, but took it way in depth beyond the autism spectrum disorder, explaining how this is self-injurious and just went into all of it. And he recommended, well, both of 'em did, recommended the services that he needed, speech therapy, occupational therapy, basically
What you wanted from the beginning. Yes.
We ended up going through this nightmare.
And so we had to fight to even get those services set up. We were finally, after not being able to see our child for five months, we were awarded unlimited visitation. As long as my mom or my mother-in-law was present. And if that had not been the case, I don't know how we would've gotten these evaluations done. I don't know how he would've started. He was able to start his speech therapy, thankfully. I mean, he was already getting so delayed by the time he was two. I mean, he had no words. He just made sounds. He had no, it's like it was at the expense of my child. They just wanted to be right. And it's like what the child abuse pediatrician says goes, it doesn't matter what any other doctor or expert in their field you are talking about a child with autism spectrum disorder, a child psychologist who deals with this every day, a board certified behavioral pediatrician who that is their specialty. This is what they're trained in, and it's just brushed to the side. And I'm just so thankful that in the end, we had a judge who listened to all the evidence, presented and dismissed the state's dependency petition and returned our son to mine and my husband's custody because that is so rare. So many families have had their rights terminated. They have been wrongfully incarcerated, all on the word of a child abuse pediatrician.
Wow. That's a lot. That's a to deal with. So I'm curious, is there anything else that you want to share about your case that's really important? Do you have a lawsuit against the state or what's going on? Absences is all over.
Yeah. In regards to our second case, well, not our second case in to our second son, we do have something pending awaiting for a decision on that in regards to his wrongful removal and the civil rights violations of not just him, but also me and my husband, our civil rights to parent our child. And that's where it just really opened my eyes to how D-H-R-C-P-S, whatever it's called, in each individual state, they're routinely violating civil rights every day. And parents don't know their rights. I mean, when you're thrown into an investigation, you're distraught. You're doing whatever is necessary to try to keep your child safe but safe. Now, I know me and my husband didn't have to sign that safety plan at 2:00 AM That's not a legal binding agreement, that's not a court order.
They were just pressuring you to try to get through whatever the paperwork they needed to have on hand to move forward with removal. Well, thank you for sharing everything here today. Is there anything you else you wanted to say? Josh
May add one more thing. I'd like to bring awareness to the child abuse register. And so we both went through this so ordeal and we were cleared in criminal court and family court with no wrongdoing and even being cleared in two different courts, I was still placed on a child abuse registry by DHRI.
Oh, that's sad. I'm sorry.
And I would just like to bring awareness to that. If any Alabama viewers are out there, they ever have the option to vote, I'd like to see that changed eventually. There are other people who don't commit abuse aren't placed on the register. Well,
That's something that we definitely, you put in the hands of the people who are going to Washington like Connie, because there's only so much you can do at a time, and she seems to know the formula to be able to get things done. So I'm glad that you have actually connected with her as well. Bring that part up to her. At some point, I think we
Discussed it in Washington and the legislators, they would kind of look like deer in headlights when you kind of bring it up. People don't understand that this is happening and that D-H-R-C-P-S, they have way, way too much power. And to me, that's just another example of a civil rights violation, parents being placed on an abuse registry based on, first of all, it's not beyond a reasonable doubt like it is if you were to go to a criminal trial. It's a preponderance of the evidence. 50%.
That's crazy. You don't get your due processed.
And so every state is different. But in Alabama, I was entitled to an actual hearing where my lawyer got to present our evidence and our expert reports, and I got to testify and all of that good stuff because I'm a licensed social worker of all things. I'm a licensed clinical social worker, and so my license could have been revoked if I had had my indicated finding upheld. But my husband, like most parents in Alabama who are given an indicated finding, they're only giving an administrative record review, which is basically DHR looking at the evidence.
Well, thank you so much for sharing everything. We're out of time today and thanks for being here for Shout Your Cause.
Thank you for listening today. My name is Sally Hendrick. Be sure to visit our website for show notes and more information on how you can inspire others. If you would like to contribute content to our magazine, please apply on our website at shoutyourcause.com.