De-Junking MSBP Adjudication

This Note addresses the adjudication of juvenile dependency cases alleging parental Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (“MSBP”). While MSBP is considered a rare phenomenon, Child Protective Services workers and physicians accuse parents of having MSBP disproportionately relative to its rarity. Consequently, MSBP cases are subject to high levels of false positives. Whether subject to dependency adjudication or other forms of child-welfare interventions, accused parents are deprived of their children. Underlying these false positives are serious defects in the types of evidence used to support MSBP adjudications. An understanding of junk science sheds light on some of the issues affecting MSBP adjudication. The expression “junk science” is used to describe untested or unproven theories, based on cherry-picked or unreliable data, often presented in a court of law. This Note presents common evidentiary issues illustrative of junk science through an analysis of approximately 50 cases alleging MSBP. Using this frame of reference, the Note then proposes the use of a decisional matrix to better evaluate the types of evidence in MSBP cases and prevent the pitfalls of junk science.