Global Family Law Services

Innocent parents can find themselves facing abuse accusations

On Behalf of | Jul 1, 2024 | Andrew Zashin, Domestic Violence

Chad Stertzbach and Valerie Linzey, parents from Hudson, faced a tumultuous ordeal after taking their 8-week-old baby, Lux, to the emergency room for a lump on his head. Valerie, a nurse practitioner, suspected something unusual about the swelling. However, a CT scan revealed what appeared to be bilateral skull fractures with scalp hematomas, leading to immediate child abuse allegations against them.

The couple’s nightmare escalated when Child Protective Services (CPS) and the police launched investigations, prohibiting Chad and Valerie from being alone with their children. Valerie’s parents had to move into their home and supervise the children.

Raising awareness

The family’s plight of being unfairly accused of child abuse and then not cleared by CPS even after medical staff found no evidence of abuse was recently highlighted by News 5 Cleveland. Reporter Katie Ussin called upon our firm’s founding partner Andrew Zashin for answers. He has 30 years of experience practicing law but was not involved in the case.

“When [the CPS] confronted by situations that are simply so baffling, so frightening, they don’t know where to turn,” Zashin told Ussin.

Mandated reporters must report suspected abuse or face legal consequences, and once Child Protective Services is notified, an investigation must happen.

“Sometimes the system works, and we hope it works quite well for the majority of the people, but people do get left behind and hurt by the bureaucracy,” Zashin said.

 3 million referrals annually

The numbers nationwide on child abuse and neglect are staggering. In 2022, there were about 3 million referrals, about 550,000 confirmed victims, and nearly 2,000 deaths.

Doctors have been working for years to help better identify possible signs of child maltreatment, and the American Board of Pediatrics officially recognized the sub-specialty of child abuse pediatricians in 2009 to assist in this public health problem. To date, there are about 400 nationwide and 17 in Ohio, according to the board’s website.

An eye exam ruled out head trauma-related injuries, and the swelling on Lux’s head resolved within 24 hours. Valerie then sought a second opinion from a pediatric neurosurgery specialist, who concluded that Lux had no skull fractures but rather accessory sutures—a congenital condition that coincidentally showed fluid collection around the sutures at the time. The neurosurgeon clarified that such a misdiagnosis could occur and emphasized that Lux’s condition did not indicate abuse.

Guilty until proven innocent

Ultimately, Chad and Valerie’s story shows their resilience and determination to clear their names and protect their family’s integrity. Their ordeal highlights the importance of accurate medical assessments and the need for child protective services to be responsive to new evidence and professional opinions.

Families in similar situations of mistaken abuse accusations can’t retreat and wait for “the whole thing to blow over.” Working with an attorney with experience in dealing with allegations of child abuse is a proactive start to the process of protecting the family and its reputation.