Abuse By Second Opinion: How & Why Sacramento CPS Targeted the Nikolayev Family

by Kevin Hickey on May 9, 2013

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard the story of Anna and Alex Nikolayev, the Sacramento parents of baby Sammy who were stunned when Child Protective Services (CPS) workers yanked the infant out of his mother’s arms – all because the parents had the temerity to request a second opinion from physicians.

But after some digging, I began to realize that while all the available facts have been reported by one outlet or another, no one article told the whole story.

Background: The Nikolayev Family

Alex and Anna Nikolayev, parents of 5-month-old infant Sammy, took their child to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento due to Sammy’s congenital heart murmur and the fact that the baby had developed flu-like symptoms.

It’s important to keep in mind that this wasn’t the first time they’d had to seek medical treatment for their child. In fact, they apparently had seen many doctors prior to this visit, at least one of whom had told the young parents that Sammy should not be given antibiotics.

So when Anna saw a Sutter nurse begin to administer antibiotics to her child, she spoke up and asked why. The nurse said “I don’t know.”

Then the attending physician told the worried parents that Sammy didn’t have the flu – but rather that the infant needed open-heart surgery immediately.

The parents made the (I believe quite understandably) decision to seek a second opinion elsewhere. Anna put Sammy in his stroller, and they traveled across town to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center to get that opinion.

At Kaiser Permanente, after the child was evaluated, physicians told the Nikolayevs that they could take Sammy home – a very different opinion than the one formed by the Sutter physician.

One fact that seems to be getting lost in the retelling of this tale is that the Nikolayevs were confronted twice by authorities. The first such occasion happened on the day they brought Sammy home from Kaiser Permanente. The police approached the parents, and with their permission, spoke with the KP physician who had treated Sammy. The KP doctor assured the police there was no danger to Sammy. The police indicated to the Nikolayevs that the staff at Sutter had led the police to believe Sammy was at death’s door, but that they could clearly see he was not.

The next day the nightmare truly began. The Nikolayevs were confronted again by the police – but this time, the police were escorting CPS workers who had one of the officers take Sammy right out of his mother’s arms. There’s very troubling video of this incident here.

For the following week, the distraught, confused parents were allowed only one-hour visits with their baby per day. CPS, meanwhile, had taken Sammy to Sutter, the very hospital that had made the parents so leery.

Finally, on April 29th, a judge yanked the reins on this runaway train returning medical decision-making authority to the Nikolayevs. However, the ordeal isn’t over for these parents: the judge also ordered the parents to allow home visits by CPS workers, to abide by medical care providers’ treatment orders, and to not remove Sammy from any hospital unless the infant was discharged by the hospital.

So, effectively this preliminary order puts Sammy’s medical care back in the hands of the medical profession instead of where it belongs – with his parents.

CPS Response

Initially, the agency circled the wagons and declined comment, citing privacy laws. However, eventually the agency released a statement, partially quoted in this Yahoo! article:

The law is clear. If there is imminent risk of serious physical harm to the child and there is insufficient time to obtain a court order to remove the child from the care of the parents… the social worker or law enforcement officer can remove the child.

That does seem pretty clear – except that judging solely by the facts currently available to the public, the “imminent risk” exception to the court order requirement doesn’t really apply in this case.

This is made manifestly apparent by the court’s subsequent order, in which the court returned medical decision-making authority to Sammy’s parents – which would not have happened had there been any evidence of an ongoing imminent risk.

What Next for the Nikolayev Family?

Sammy is now receiving care from another hospital (not Sutter). His parents have stated he probably will require surgery.

Understandably, the Nikolayevs are worried about future CPS visits. They report that many parents spoke up following this story’s first publication, stating that they had experienced similar questionable actions by CPS – which, of course, is no surprise to any reader of this blog.

The Nikolayevs are not alone in this fight, however. They are represented by Joseph Weinberger, a Sacramento attorney who appears to focus on personal injury cases.

Additionally, Tim Donnelly, a Republican California Assemblyman representing Twin Peaks, CA, has now called for an audit of the CPS agency’s actions in the Nikolayev case.

And they’ll need all the help they can get. While I certainly hope that the next court hearing (scheduled for later this month) will put an end to the entire matter for the Nikolayevs, that is far from a foregone conclusion.

Parents have a constitutional right to make healthcare decisions on behalf of their children. CPS trampled those rights in this instance. Basically, CPS took a child out of a home because the parents sought a second medical opinion for their child.

While there’s certainly enough blame to go around (to the overreaction of the medical care providers at Sutter, for instance, for the wholly unsupportable decision to report obviously caring parents as abusers simply because the parents questioned their conclusions), the Sacramento CPS bears the brunt of the responsibility for this ridiculous assertion of its powers.

This is yet another tragic example of CPS abusing its power in regards to our children. And if you think this can’t happen to you, think again. These parents acted completely within their rights, followed the advice given by the physician providing the second opinion, and still had their infant child taken from their home.

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