A Chicago mother is seeking damages from a local hospital and two doctors for allegedly filing a racially motivated child abuse report.
Jillian Robinson took her 10-month-old son to Advocate Christ Medical Center last April after noticing a mark on the back of his outer ear. The federal lawsuit alleges that white doctors assumed the mark was a bruise without a full medical examination to confirm this and reported it to child protective services. It turned out to be a birthmark.
However, it was too late.
Robinson’s lawsuit documents describe how she was questioned by social workers wrongfully labeled as “homeless,” and had to fight for her child to remain in her care. She was subjected to Department of Children and Family Services and Chicago Police Department investigations.
“To say I was blindsided is an understatement,” Robinson said. “I was made to feel like I was crazy. Everything that was being said to me was against rational, logical thought, from my point of view.”
Robinson and her family are traumatized and suffered mental anguish and emotional distress for doing what any “attentive parent would have done,” seeking medical care for an apparent issue, the lawsuit says.
Robinson’s attorneys allege that her treatment at Advocate Christ Medical Center perpetuates a nationwide trend of disproportionately subjecting Black families to child welfare investigations.
“While Ms. Robinson’s experience of the healthcare and child welfare systems was traumatic and unwarranted, it unfortunately, reflects a much broader, pervasive pattern of systemic injustice perpetrated against Black families,” the lawsuit obtained by Atlanta Black Star says.
While around 37 percent of U.S. children experience a child protective services investigation by 18 years old, 53 percent of Black children in the nation experience a child protective services investigation before they are adults, an American Journal of Public Health report shows.
Between 2011 and 2017, Black children in Illinois made up one-third of the total number of investigations despite Black people accounting for 14.6 percent of the state’s population.
Robinson said that an Advocate Christ Medical employee warned her of the hospital’s “racist practices” while she was going through the ordeal. The employee allegedly told Robinson when a white parent comes to the hospital with “a child with a bruise, they give them the tests and send them home. But a Black family? Whew, girl…”
Representatives for Advocate Christ said they are reviewing the complaint.
“Our top priority is to provide every patient with the safest, highest quality and equitable care,” Advocate Christ said in a statement.
Robinson first noticed the mark on the ear of her son “J.R.'” on April 25, 2021. She called the nurse hotline for his regular pediatrician and was advised to schedule an appointment for an examination.
However, the concerned mother decided to take J.R. to the nearest emergency room, where medical personnel did not find any issues, the lawsuit alleges. They told Robinson to “leave it alone” but monitor the area for changes.
Robin took J.R. to Advocate Christ Medical Center three days later after noticing that the mark had not changed.
One of the defendants, Dr. Bill Schroeder, questioned Robinson about the mark. She explained to the physician and a medical resident also present how she noticed it days earlier.
The lawsuit alleges that Schroeder and the medical resident examined the baby’s body for wounds and then put in his medical records that he had a bruise “suspicious for a pinching of the ear, nonaccidental trauma.” They reported the incident to the DCFS.
The doctor ordered bloodwork, a head computed tomography (CT), and a full-body bone scan to prove that the mark was a bruise, Robinson says. The emergency room staff also alerted a pediatrician, Dr. Emily Siffermann, another defendant in the case, who reportedly has a child abuse board certification and signed off on the plan.
When hospital staff sliced into and attempted to drain the mark on J.R.’s outer ear, they realized that it was not a bruise. Schroeder told Robinson that they needed to conduct more tests and complete lab work, which her lawyers believed was an attempt to back up his child services report.
Schroeder ultimately told Robinson that the lack of drainage for the mark most likely meant it could be a cyst, but he had already called child services, so she would have to speak to them and allow the additional tests.
The lawsuit says Robinson was questioned extensively about her parenting and living arrangements, even as the head CT and body scan showed no signs that she harmed her baby.
Robinson told the hospital she had lived with her family since August 2020. Staff noted in J.R.’s medical record that she was homeless from that date. Before leaving the hospital, the social worker allegedly questioned Robinson about whether she had “permanent housing” and could “afford to feed her child.” Robinson had previously received Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits.
Upon discharge, the social worker told Robinson that she could not leave the hospital with her baby and she needed to find a relative who could take the child, or he would be placed in foster care.
Robinson told the caseworker that she believed she was being targeted because of race. She asked the caseworker to get the test results from Schroeder or a pediatric otolaryngologist who examined J.R. The pediatric otolaryngologist eventually lobbied for Robinson, and she was allowed to leave the hospital with her baby but under the supervision of her uncle.
Robinson was forced to live in an unfamiliar home with her baby, where she was not allowed to be alone with her baby for a week, the lawsuit says. The Chicago Police Department also opened a child abuse investigation into Robinson that found no evidence of intentional harm.
DCFS closed its child abuse investigation into Robinson in July 2021. The lawsuit says the language in the closing letter concluded the hospital’s staff claims of intentional harm was “unfounded,” it but did not rule out that an incident “occurred.”
“The evidence did not rise to the level required to indicate … abuse or neglect as dictated by state law and DCFS Administrative Rule,” the letter reportedly said.
By that time multiple doctors, including the Advocate Christ pediatric otolaryngologist, had concluded the mark was a birthmark.
“The very language of the closing letter further emphasized the peril in which Ms. Robinson’s parental rights were placed throughout this process — a process based on little more than a prejudgment infused with racial bias and without any medical investigation,” the lawsuit says.