Why Was a 3-Year-Old in South Dakota Forcibly Catheterized as He Screamed in Pain?

Imagine the Department of Social Services threatens to remove your child from your custody unless you agree to have his urine collected. Under duress, you consent— only to watch hospital staff pin your three-year-old down and forcibly catheterize him as he screams in pain. Two days later, he is still in pain. You take him back to the hospital, where he is diagnosed with a staph infection in his penis.

This is not a hypothetical situation. One day this past winter, police and officials from the Department of Social Services (DSS) in Pierre, South Dakota, arrived at a home to arrest a man on suspicion of a probation violation. Because he tested positive for drugs, his girlfriend was told by DSS that her children would be removed from the home if she did not consent to having their urine tested. Because of that threat, she agreed to the test, but since her youngest child is not toilet-trained, DSS forced him to undergo the catheterization.

The distraught mother contacted the ACLU, and we were shocked by her story. It’s hard to imagine circumstances that would lead child welfare officials to think it was a good idea to catheterize a 3-year-old, subjecting a vulnerable child to trauma and injury, because of an investigation into potential drug use by an adult. Anyone who has spent any time around young children knows there certainly are other methods available to collect a sample from the child — like, for example, giving the child water or juice and waiting an hour. Or, DSS could have rightly concluded that the risk to the very child they were purporting to protect was just not worth it.

This incident raises a multitude of practical, moral, and constitutional questions. Collecting bodily fluids from a toddler to gather evidence against an adult member of the household is simply unreasonable. Period. Second, catheterization of anyone — adults and children alike — is an incredibly invasive procedure that should only be employed when absolutely necessary. Additionally, the compelled production of bodily fluids is a search under the Fourth Amendment, which, absent consent, requires a warrant supported by probable cause. In this case, the DSS conducted the search without a warrant, without legal justification, and without judicial oversight. (To be clear, when a parent “consents” to the collection of her children’s bodily fluids under the threat of losing her children, that consent is invalid.)

The ACLU of South Dakota has written to DSS to demand that they stop catheterizing children and provide explanations. We want to know why this search was conducted, why the catheterization was permitted, and who made the decision to have this child tested. Further, we have asked the DSS to release any written policies regarding searches of children and catheterization.

Forcibly catheterizing anyone — let alone a 3-year-old — to collect evidence is barbaric at worst and unconstitutional at best. No child, let alone one suspected of being a victim of abuse or neglect, should be subjected to such trauma, indignity, and abuse.

We want answers. We have no intention of letting DSS get away with this barbaric practice without accountability.

This post has been edited to clarify that it was DSS, not the police, that ordered the catheterization.

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Let's also remember that no drugs were found in the child's system....


Having grown up in South Dakota my guess is that this family and little boy are Native American. SD's child services have long history of treating NAs poorly including breaking federal law in refusing to place NA kids in native homes before white homes, and removing children from homes that were ACCUSED of drug use. Not arrested, not convicted, accused by a third party. The mother requested a drug test, etc., but they refused that and still put the children in foster care.

If he is a NA kid, I wouldn't be surprised the nurses and doctors didn't speak up either. The treatment of NA in SD is along the lines of African Americans in the 1950's south. People are openly racist about NA without any hesitation that it might be looked down on.


Commercial health and medical providers should not be legally allowed to participate in police procedure. we need to demand new laws from those we elect

John T

I am totally against any and all govt way overstepping boundaries on we the people. It is up to us to stop the insanity. If anyone wonders why so many of us feel divisive and angry it is because of the constant rules and regulations in our lives. We pay an enormous price for the missteps of a few and it is gathering momentum. There is actual no good reason to drug test anyone unless they are sitting in the cockpit of a plane. How in the world did we possibly survive every single thing over the past 150 years? No one is even safer or better off with all the intrusion. We are a less optimistic, happy and content population. The sad thing we allow and even invite it especially when a tragedy strikes. Remember the 2 year old killed at Disney World by an alligator not long after a child fell into a gorilla enclosure? The first thing they say is "the parents are not LIKELY to face charges." What? In a very old newspaper clipping a child fell into a cistern and drowned. It is time for a sanity check to get off of our backs. Stop the addictive lucrative addiction of drug money that all law enforcement and politicians have all the way down to jails, etc. If they really want to stop anything legalize drugs and open rehabs for those who need it. I promise it will get better not worse. Freedom equals happiness. Justice needs the biggest overhaul by far. It is a disgrace. If we don't offer actual corrections and better support it will get worse by the day.


Unfortunately, the government can do about anything it wants to.
Yes, it is unfortunate that a toddler had to go through such a traumatic event.
First, the boyfriend was suspected, or tested positive for drug use which is a probation violation.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I am willing to bet that the family involved was low income.
The less money you have means that you are more susceptible to the whims of the government.
You would be shocked at what the government can and does get away with.
You really can't stop them from doing anything they feel like doing.
They make the various laws and have people to enforce them.

Troy Morphew

I went through a forced catheterization ordered by police without a warrant which they deny saying hospital requested it the urine sample. I still have nightmares and panic attacks almost daily, so I know that child is mentally scared after that. Them bastards need to be held responsible for their actions. What's this world coming to when you can be taken to a hospital by law enforcement officers and them same offers hold your arms and legs down while being shackled to a bed while a nurse pulls down your pants and forced a 18 inch catheter in your penis all the way to bladder?? Over what a missed court date and because I had been drinking that evening. People who get arrested for owi who refuse breathalyzer don't get that kind of abuse.?? I just don't get it how this can be going on not just in Indiana but everywhere!! Research the web you'll see. Bless that little child heart. America what's going on????


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