Youth Services Law

Nursemaid’s Elbow Can Be A Crime

I ran across this report of a child care teacher arrested and charged with a felony for causing a dislocated elbow. It sounds like a case of nursemaid’s elbow, an unfortunately common ailment in younger children (so common that its nickname dates from the days of actual nursemaids). It is usually a temporary and easily-treated condition, which probably is one of the reasons that the prosecutor downgraded the charge to a misdemeanor.

Still, I am struck by the fact that the injury led to criminal charges in the first place. It does not take much force to cause nursemaid’s elbow, and most such injuries are accidental. I do not know what the video showed, so it is possible that the teacher lost her temper and jerked the child. I am concerned, however, that we may be criminalizing simple accidents. I am seeing more criminal prosecutions, for example, where child protection authorities do not substantiate abuse. I cannot tell if the two agencies have differing standards, or if law enforcement is simply going after low-hanging fruit.

Whatever the reason, the takeaway for people working in childcare is that criminal charges are possible. We need to be sure that employees working with young children are trained in best practices, such as never tugging on a child’s arm and always lifting children by their torso. These practices will not prevent all injuries to children, but they certainly can reduce them.

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