Ryan Crawford was driving with his son Christopher to Walmart last Friday when he told him the news. The day before, Christopher’s mother, Kaylene Bowen, appeared in Dallas County criminal court to plead guilty to a second-degree felony charge of recklessly causing injury to her child. As part of a deal with Dallas County prosecutors, the charge was reduced from a first-degree felony charge of intentionally injuring her child, and it carries a potential sentence of 2 to 20 years with the possibility of parole. The sentencing hearing will be held on October 11.
When Christopher heard the news, he asked his father, “Does that mean that she’s finally saying that she did hurt me?”
“I told him yes, and he pretty much said, ‘that is a good thing,’” Crawford said. “He is always looking at it as if she finally tells the truth, then her life can move on.”
Crawford and his son have been trying to move on with their own lives despite the looming criminal trial, which was set to start Monday. In the August issue, I write about how about how Christopher’s mother allegedly fabricated her son’s many illnesses and subjected him to excessive medical care that resulted in 13 major surgeries, life-threatening blood infections, and a host of other invasive medical treatments. It appeared to be the latest, bizarre case of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, or what experts are increasingly referring to simply as medical child abuse.
The guilty plea, Crawford says, offers some sense of closure, but he and his son will have to wait another two months to find out what impact that plea will have on their lives. As a result of a family court ruling, Bowen is still allowed supervised visitation with her son every two weeks. If Bowen receives jail time, those visitations will stop, but they are already becoming irregular. During some of the visits, Crawford says Bowen has told Christopher that he and his two half-siblings will eventually be able to come back and live with her. Afterward, Crawford has to tell Christopher that that will never happen.
“I can tell that it hurts deep inside,” Crawford says. “Obviously he loves his mother and can’t understand all of his emotions. Deep down he is hurt that he is pulled away from the rest of his family members.”
The plea, the looming sentencing, and the tension around continued interaction between Christopher and his mother illustrates many of the complicated, difficult aspects of prosecuting and treating cases of medical child abuse. Mike Weber, a Tarrant County sheriff’s office investigator and an expert on medical child abuse, says that there are no specific laws in Texas that address medical abuse and so prosecutors have to shoehorn their cases into existing laws. The limited public awareness of medical abuse can also make it difficult for prosecutors, who need to educate jurors about the issue during a trial. With regards to Bowen’s case, even with the guilty plea, there is a possibility that the convicted child abuser will still be allowed access to her victim, which can have lasting psychological effects on the child.
Rehabilitation is also difficult because few perpetrators ever admit that they intentionally harmed their child, says Mark Feldman, a clinical professor of psychiatry and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Alabama and one of the country’s leading experts on medical abuse. “The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children just recently released an article about treating the perpetrators,” Feldman said. “But every effort to treat involves requiring the mother to admit to what she has done, and that almost never happens.”
Even though Crawford is taking Bowen’s guilty plea for what it is—an admission of guilt—he didn’t see any evidence in Bowen’s behavior in court last Thursday that his son’s mother had faced up to her criminal behavior. “She seemed irritated, like she shouldn’t be there, and at the same time trying to suck up to the judge,” Crawford said. “Like, you don’t understand what you are actually facing, the time in state jail that you could be facing?”
Bowen’s lawyer, Heath Hyde, said his client decided to enter a guilty plea after the prosecution reduced the charge from intentional to reckless injury of a child. Hyde said he believes the prosecutors reduced the charge because they knew they didn’t have the evidence to prove in court that Bowen intentionally harmed her child. When that evidence is finally aired at the sentencing hearing, Hyde said, he believes his client will get probation.
“I think the thing that is at issue here is there are a lot of procedures done by doctors, and doctors don’t perform those procedures unless an examination indicates that there is a problem,” Hyde said. “Obviously, the child had problems all the way through.”
Crawford says his son’s health has continued its sudden and remarkable recovery that began when he was taken out of his mother’s care in 2017. And while he admits that some responsibility for his son’s treatment should fall on the doctors, he says those doctors were manipulated by his son’s mother. As the sentencing hearing approaches and there is increasing national attention on his story, Crawford says he wants to keep the focus on the person he believes nearly killed his son.
“Everyone wants to ask the same question over and over, why is she charged and not the doctors?” he said. “The doctors will be dealt with. But right now is not the time. The person who was there to protect him has to face the consequences.”