Did state agency neglect child abuse case? - WNEM TV 5


Did state agency neglect child abuse case?

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A local doctor is taking aim at Michigan's Department of Human Services, specifically, Child Protective Services. He says the agency simply failed his young patient.

"The ball was dropped here and it probably isn't the only case," says Dr. Jack Pfenninger.

This tragic tale starts 10 weeks ago on December 11 when the doctor examined a 3-year-old boy. His parents knew something wasn't right.

"When I examined him you could see right away that they were anal warts," says the doctor.

That's a virus that can be sexually transmitted. So as required by law, the doctor filed a report of suspected abuse with the Department of Human Services.

Just one week later he received a letter in the mail dated the same day he made the complaint. It says: "…the allegation does not meet the child protection law definition of child abuse or neglect."

"They received my complaint and took care of it the same day. Now that wouldn't even be time for an interview or for an investigation," says Dr. Pfenninger.

In shock, he asked his staff to call the child's mother to check in. And he says she was equally floored.

"The mother said ‘investigation - what investigation? Nobody's called, nobody's come here, what about my child? Who's going to take care of my child? How do I know something hasn't happened?' "

So on December 18, Dr. Pfenninger fired off another letter to DHS as well as to the state Attorney General - Bill Schuette.

In it he wrote, "I find this action by your department to be unacceptable. I am asking you to investigate this case. If it is my obligation to report suspected child abuse, you at least have the obligation to investigate it."

And then he waited.

With no response, phone call, or visit in two weeks, he called TV5 so we could ask the tough questions. And then he called the attorney general personally.

"That day there were four or five calls, two or three people, state police, everybody came in -- hand your team a credit because dropping your name made things happen."

Indeed this case got attention. Investigators with the attorney general's office, Child Protective Services, Michigan State Police and the Midland prosecutor's office were all of a sudden on the job -- trying to figure out if this child was sexually abused and if so, who did it.

Dr. Pfenninger is pleased an investigation is now underway, but says a decision to investigate from the start should have been a no-brainer.

"You have to investigate. You have to look. You have to go after the obvious."

The attorney general's office and the Department of Human Services have declined to comment on this case citing the ongoing investigation.

TV5 is committed to finding answers and will continue to stay on this story and bring you more information as it becomes available.

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