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Medical Exams Violated Kids' Rights, Federal Court Rules

Imagine if county officials took your kids from your home, took them to a temporary shelter, and subjected them to invasive medical examinations under a suspicion of child abuse, including a gynecological and rectal exam, all without your knowledge or consent and without even a court order authorizing the examinations.

That's what two San Diego parents -- Mark and Melissa Mann -- were confronted with in 2010, and a federal appeals court just ruled that the county acted unconstitutionally in subjecting the children to the unwarranted and invasive exams.

Invasive Medical Examinations

"The County's continued failure to provide parental notice and obtain consent for the Polinsky medical examinations has harmed families in Southern California for too long," wrote Ninth Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw. "Here, the County subjected the Mann children to invasive medical examinations unbeknownst to their parents, who were meanwhile trying to cooperate with the County's investigation."

After one of the Mann children was found with a red mark on her back and Mark Mann admitted to hitting her with a spoon, San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) opened an investigation in conditions in the home and the Mann's agreed to receive supportive services and signed a voluntary safety plan. During a visit as part of the safety plan, a social worker noticed a bruise on another child's forehead. Melissa explained the child hit his forehead on kitchen countertop, and, even though a doctor said the injury was "most likely accidental," the county removed the children from the home, and transferred them to Polinsky Children's Center.

While there, and while the Manns were in a court hearing on their children's detention, a doctor at Polinsky conducted a medical examination that "included a gynecological and rectal exam, which involved a visual and tactile inspection of the children," without the Mann's knowledge or consent.

Significant Intrusions

"The Manns were deprived of their right to raise their children without undue interference from the government, the right to make medical decisions for their children, and the right to privacy in their family life," explained Judge Wardlaw:

The Mann children were subjected to invasive, potentially traumatizing procedures absent constitutionally required safeguards. Although we must balance these fundamental rights against the state's interest, we conclude that the County is constitutionally required to provide parental notice and obtain parental consent or judicial authorization for the protection of parents' and children's rights alike.

Finding the examinations were a "significant intrusion" into the children's right to privacy, the court therefore concluded that the county violated the Mann children's Fourth Amendment rights by failing to obtain a warrant or consent for the exams.

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