A recent report about a young Russian couple who took their 5-month-old son for a second medical opinion and ultimately ended up losing custody of the child has me very concerned about the way Child Protective Services (CPS) functions in this country.

Anna and Alex Nikolayev had been taking their son, Sammy, to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento since his birth, when had been diagnosed with a heart murmur. When they arrived at the hospital, Sammy was taken to the Intensive Care Unit.  But soon, the couple became concerned about their son’s treatment, after Anna witnessed a nurse giving Sammy antibiotics – something a doctor had not instructed her to do, according to the report.

A doctor confirmed that Sammy should not have been given antibiotics; however, doctors told Anna they wanted to perform open heart surgery on her son as soon as possible.  At that point, Anna thought she may need a second opinion for her son – a decision her doctors were adamantly against. So the Nikolayevs took their son out of the hospital without proper discharge and rushed him to a rival hospital where they were met by police, presumably called by the medical staff from Sutter Memorial. Doctors at the second hospital told police they had no reason for concern for the safety of the child, and the Nikolayevs took him home.

But just one day after bringing their son home, the Nikolayevs received another visit from police, along with representatives from Child Protective Services (CPS).  Without a warrant, police let themselves inside the Nikolayevs’ home, grabbed Sammy from Anna’s arms and walked out.  A camera that Anna set up in the living room recorded the entire event. The child remains in protective custody at Sutter Memorial Hospital, where the parents were able to visit him for an hour on Thursday.

After reading this report, I wonder whether or not the proper steps were taken, and if common sense was thrown out the window.

There’s no doubt that CPS is a necessary agency. Since its inception in the 1970s, the purpose of this agency has been to protect children by identifying and removing those that are abused and neglected in their homes. Today, more than 3 million cases are handled by CPS in all 50 states, and more than 300,000 children are in foster care.

As a physician, I have an obligation to inform CPS if I see abuse being committed. Some of the reasons a child under the age of 18 would be taken into protective custody include:

• Parents/guardians inflicting or allowing harm to occur to a child
• Parents/guardians inflicting physical, mental or emotional abuse
• Parents/guardians committing sex acts or inappropriate sexual behavior involving children
• Parents/guardians willfully abandoning a child/children
• Parent/guardians unable to provide care or supervision as a result of mental illness, substance abuse, developmental disability or arrest

But over the years, the number of mistakes being made by CPS have created a credibility issue for the agency. There have been numerous cases where CPS has failed to recognize abuse and children have been hurt and killed. And in other cases, the agency has made the mistake of not filing the proper paperwork required to take children away from their parents.

If you were to look at some of these government-run CPS offices – especially in cities that have gross chronic financial problems – you find that there is tremendous personnel turnover, and in many cases, poor training of social workers to deal with these cases. So what you have left is people with little experience, little training and sometimes, lack of common sense.

So it’s clear to me that the system is broken, and putting the effort into fixing it will fundamentally create a better agency and save lives.