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Saline County couple's bid to regain custody of boy denied

Medical treatments called unnecessary by John Moritz | October 1, 2020 at 7:16 a.m.

A Saline County couple who publicized their adopted son's battles with numerous illnesses -- only to be later accused of feigning his symptoms and putting his health in jeopardy -- lost their court appeal Wednesday to regain custody of the boy.

The 11-year-old boy was taken away from Kristy and Erik Schneider in September 2019 after the state Department of Human Services received a tip through the child abuse hotline, according to court records.

The subsequent investigation alleged that Kristy Schneider had been providing false information to the boy's doctors which resulted in unnecessary and harmful medical treatments, including the prescription of powerful opioids, according to court records.

The Schneiders, along with the boy, were featured in news reports last year after "hundreds of law enforcement" officers lined roads in Central Arkansas as he was driven to Arkansas Children's Hospital for what was thought to be end-of-life care, according to an ABC News story from the time. (The boy is not named in court records.)

But after the boy was admitted to the hospital and taken off a nutrition line, his condition began to improve, according to court records.

Later, several of his doctors, along with Human Services Department attorneys, claimed that the boy was a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a condition that the Schneiders said both groups were unqualified to prove, records show.

According to the website of the Cleveland Clinic, Munchausen syndrome by proxy, also known as factitious disorder imposed on another, is when "a person acts as if an individual he or she is caring for has a physical or mental illness when the person is not really sick."

A unanimous, three-judge panel of the Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed a lower court's decision terminating the Schneiders' custody of the boy.

An attorney for the Schneider family, Jeff Rosenzweig, said Wednesday he planned to appeal the decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

"From a legal standpoint, it is a dangerous decision," Rosenzweig said. "The opinion approved of DHS just making up a definition of a condition that is contrary to the statute."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services responded to a request for comment with a statement saying, "We'll let the court's decision speak for itself."

The opinion, written by Court of Appeals Judge Waymond Brown, rejected the Schneiders' arguments that the lower court's decision should be overruled because it relied heavily on the testimony of the son's doctors, without a psychiatric evaluation of the parents to diagnose the claim of Munchausen syndrome.

The parents also argued that the Human Services Department erred in amending the claims against them, though the judge found that the agency had merely "elaborated" on its claims.

Brown cited the "thousands of pages" of court records in his opinion, and wrote "there was ample of [sic] testimony where the court could conclude that Kristy's actions of misrepresenting information to the medical professionals were done either intentionally, knowingly, or both."

According to portions of the lower court record included in his opinion, the Schneiders adopted the boy in 2014, at which point he had already been diagnosed with chromosomal abnormality, cognitive learning delay, seizures and other disorders.

After being released from Arkansas Children's Hospital following treatment for a believed terminal illness last year, the Schneiders took their son to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which recommended that the Schneiders attempt to "wean" their son off drugs that he had been prescribed, including fentanyl and anxiety medication, according to court records.

Back in Arkansas, Kristy Schneider failed to notify her son's doctors at Arkansas Children's Hospital that the Mayo Clinic had recommended the child be weaned from drugs, according to court records. She is also alleged to have asked doctors to place a port in her son's chest -- which later became infected -- claiming the port was on the advice of the Mayo Clinic doctors, who later said they had actually advised against the procedure, according to court records.

After the Human Services Department took custody of the boy, he went from being wheelchair-bound and fed by artificial nutrition to moving around and eating solid food within days, according to the court record. The Schneiders claimed this was because he was completely weaned off his medications, which occurred before he was taken from their custody.

Rosenzweig, the family's attorney, said the case had been "difficult" for the Schneiders, and asked for privacy for the family.

"They are working hard to resolve the issues that caused this," Rosenzweig said.

Amy Webb, the spokeswoman for the Human Services Department, said in an email Wednesday that the agency is prohibited from saying whether the child has been adopted by another family.

"We work to ensure children in foster care have safe and stable homes and permanency as quickly as possible," Webb said. "So if a child's parents have their rights terminated, we would work to find appropriate adoptive parents."

In January, Kristy Schneider filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, seeking to quash a subpoena filed by the attorney general requesting access to Kristy Schneider's Facebook records. Rutledge later withdrew the subpoena, and the case was dismissed.

"The safety and wellbeing of children is of the utmost importance to the Attorney General," a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office said in a statement Wednesday. "However, the Attorney General does not disclose potential targets of investigations."

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