Examining a system that can destroy innocent families

“Don’t Know Harm” is a podcast based on NBC News reports that is a system designed to protect children, but sometimes shed tears to innocent families. Listen to the series here.

I will never forget the first time I accidentally hurt one of my children.

I am spending the weekend with my 2-year-old daughter, Eleanor, in 2015. At one point, I picked him up with my small hands and slowly started swinging back and forth. He begged and asked me to do it again.

But then, when I mounted him again, the clash suddenly stopped. And by the time I set Eleanor down again, she was screaming. She was very young back then, she could not tell us what hurt.

That afternoon at a urgent care center, my wife and I found out that I would partially sever her elbow. It was a common injury for toddlers, the doctor said, before returning it. He told me that I should not kill myself.

But that evening, as I saw my daughter in her cradle – her short arm fixed in a cloth sheet – I felt as if I’d failed her.

Eleanor Hicksbong after her elbow was partially dislocated.Mike Hicksbong / NBC News

The story of many parents is the same. The moment a child can answer a phone call, a child can roll out of bed. A child may fall out of the grasp of one parent and fall on the pavement. Children usually recover quickly. But what happens when a parent’s mistake causes more serious injuries? And – in a country where an estimated 1,700 children die of abuses every year – what if doctors and social workers, who want nothing more than to keep all children safe, start suspecting the worst?

Those questions are at the center of my newly discovered podcast, a six-part narrative series “Do No Harm” by NBC News and Vandy. “Do No Haram” traces the intersection of two families – the Brights and the Butlers – as they face a legal and medical system that is so committed to protecting vulnerable children from abuse that this sometimes innocent mother -Does the father’s life.

Listen to ‘Do No Harm’ now:

Apple Podcast


Google Podcast


The series opens with Melissa and Dillon Bright, a Houston couple who thought they were living in every parent’s worst nightmare when their 5-month-old baby mason jumped from the lawn chair and beheaded her. Hit the trackway. But when they took him to the hospital, Mason’s injuries caught the attention of doctors and social workers and a new nightmare began.

After an emotional confrontation with Child Protective Services turned into the hardest night of his life, Brights found a lawyer who could help him fight back. He was not aware that his case connected with another family – the Buttlers, whose son was almost identical to Mason’s injury – with major consequences that were spread across Texas.

Lance and Sharde Butler in Houston with their son, Langston.Elizabeth Conley / Houston Chronicle

As I wrote and reported this story over the past two years, I thought highly of my daughter’s hurt arm. As I interviewed more families who were swept into the child welfare system, after which they insisted that there was an accident, I began to imagine how things might be different for me.

What if Eleanor’s injury was more serious? What if the doctor made different assumptions about me, depending on my race? Or how much money should i make?

What if I had guilt about hurting my child, my problems were minimal?

The first three episodes of “Pod No Harm” are now available on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you listen to the podcast.

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