Philly Councilman Accused of Child Abuse After Son Injured While Teaching Him Judo
After undergoing a child abuse investigation for injuring his son in a martial arts accident, David Oh, a councilman in Philadelphia was prompted to call a hearing on implementing “objective guidelines and uniform reporting standards” for social workers.
City Councilman David Oh, a jiu-jitsu practitioner for the last 16 years, has been teaching his kids martial arts every Sunday morning in their home.
Oh reportedly hurt his 8-year-old son, Joshua, when he flipped him on the mat while demonstrating a judo roll (side somersault) back in July, according to The Inquirer.
The boy was immediately rushed to a hospital after landing between his face and shoulder on the ground. “He looked kind of stunned, and I immediately knew it wasn’t a good fall,” Oh was quoted as saying.
Doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia would later determine that the boy had sustained a collarbone fracture. Things got complicated for Oh after a social worker arrived at the hospital and spoke with their son alone.
The social worker then informed the boy’s parents afterward that she was filing a report of suspected child abuse with the city Department of Human Services (DHS). According to Oh, he tried to convince the social worker that martial arts practice is a common family activity at home by showing photos of him doing martial arts with his kids.
“It kind of comes out of left field,” Oh noted. “To have an accident, you take your kid to an excellent children’s hospital, like CHOP, and then, out of nowhere, to have someone say, ‘We’re reporting you to DHS.’”
While no abuse was eventually proven, the incident reminded Oh that he had options as a City Council member that an average citizen might not have.
According to Oh, it bothered him that the social worker could not explain why she thought the incident was more than an accident. She reportedly told him she typically reports injuries children suffer in all sports. “She insinuated that [a report] was no big deal, it was routine,” Oh said. “And when I pressed her for a reason, she made a comment: ‘You’re a grown man, you shouldn’t be teaching your son judo. He’s 8.’”
A few days later, a DHS investigator arrived at their home and checked out the martial arts room. After a brief discussion, the caseworker then informed him that she had deemed the report unfounded.
DHS Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa said hospital workers are required to report any possible abuse. “You’re reporting based on your own suspicion, but not necessarily because you have the concrete evidence,” Figueroa noted. “Which is why you would call it in. Then, whether it rose to require an investigation would be a determination that is made. If a child is presenting with either an injury or something that maybe would lead you to ask more questions about the safety of a child, it’s a good-faith effort that you’re reporting it.”
Oh, who felt discriminated against because of his racial background, then decided to hold the council on Public Health and Human Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. “It seems irresponsible that you’re just going to report whenever you feel like it,” Oh said. “It seems like a lot of room for subjective bias — my wife and I being Asian, and no one knowing I’m a lawyer and a councilman, you’re very quick to report on us.”
Along with council members, in attendance were parents of children in foster care and legal experts who expressed that the city’s chief child welfare agency needed an overhaul.
During the hearing, Oh called for the city Department of Human Services to implement “objective guidelines and uniform reporting standards” for social workers to rely on when they suspect a child is being abused.
“What happened to me was a peek behind the window, and what I saw was not good,” Oh said at the start of the meeting.
Parents also testified how their children were taken from them for no other reason than the fact that they are poor. Some claimed that their kids were removed from them due to housing issues, not abuse.
“There has to be greater transparency, greater objectivity, and greater accountability,” Oh told the Legal Intelligencer. “What we’re seeing is that, in a situation where there is so much uncertainty and vagueness, that when people start removing children, there is no way to get them back because there was not a clear reason why they were taken in the first place.”
Figueroa argued that the agency is bound by state law and cannot impose independent standards for its social workers when it comes to reporting child abuse. “Our mandate is child safety,” she told the committee. “There is perhaps no other time in our nation’s history that it has been more important to listen to children.”
Figueroa has earlier stated that even if the Council got behind the proposals, the city has limited authority in the matter. “It would also be incredibly chaotic in terms of an enforcement standpoint if each county decided to go rogue in how to adhere to the child protective services law,” she pointed out.
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