Do No Harm: Every parent's worst nightmare
The Premise (from Apple Podcasts):
Melissa Bright thinks she's living every parent's worst nightmare when her five-month-old baby tumbles from a lawn chair and hits his head on the driveway. But after she rushes him to the hospital, a new nightmare begins. The Brights are thrust into a medical and legal system so focused on protecting children from abuse, it has targeted innocent parents. With exclusive audio captured as the events unfolded, this harrowing six-episode series takes you inside the Brights' fight to hold their family together, against a system that can sometimes do more harm than good. Hosted by NBC News National Investigative Reporter Mike Hixenbaugh, Do No Harm is a co-production of NBC News and Wondery.
Series or standalone:
Begin listening to:
Reporter Mike Hixenbaugh
Adult; CW: mentions of child abuse; separation of parents and children
Approximate length of episodes:
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Podcast Librarian’s Review:
Coming into it, I didn’t know much about this pod except that it got a lot of buzz this year and was related to child abuse in some way. Turns out it was way more nuanced than that. I was initially confused about the title because “Do no harm” is part of the Hippocratic oath, and I didn’t think the pod had anything to do with doctors. Within a few episodes, the connection becomes clear. The pod begins with the Bright family and a terrible accident that results in their very young son visiting the ER for a head injury. While there, the frazzled parents interact with many doctors and staff, but no one told them that part of the protocol when a child sustains an injury like their son’s is that Child Protective Services (CPS) has to get involved to determine, with the help of pediatricians trained in child abuse-specific diagnoses, whether there is any danger to the child. This is where the whole thing goes drastically wrong and sets off a chain of events that result in the parents having both of their children removed from their home for a time. In a nearby town, another couple (who are black, though that’s not discussed until later) have experienced something very similar with their own child—but have been waiting much longer to regain custody of their son.
This pod is about what happens when then people charged with protecting children (CPS & doctors) make the wrong call and end up harming children more by separating them from their parents, resulting in trauma for all involved. The podcast is extremely well-reported and well-produced and has an incredibly catchy theme song. (Side note: I spent several days googling the lyrics and trying to figure out who sang it. It's "Hands Alone" by Of Sea and Stone, available on Spotify.) The reporting is fair and pretty balanced and doesn’t place blame on or vilify any particular group of people—rather a failure of the system as a whole. I’ve talked to parents who said that this was really hard to listen to, and even as a non-parent, I found it to be upsetting and infuriating. There are references to child abuse throughout but no actual abuse because that’s the whole point—these parents had their children ripped from them with no credible evidence whatsoever.