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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Why did they but use puck inexperienced staff? Lack of proper supplies. Checking for drugs in the children can save their lives. But not hurting them. When the Helpers don't know what they're doing........Protocal is nessesary!

Chris T

This is so horrible.


I was catheterised for medical reasons as a very young child and repeatedly during my childhood and into adult life, it has had a profound traumatic effect on me despite having at the age of 55 taught myself not to be terrified of the procedure any more, my heart goes out to the poor kid.


While I do not condone what was done, I object to the sensationalist language being used in this article. It is not necessary and is only intended to provoke the reader. What is "unforced" catheterization versus "forced?" And "pin the child down." Because all three year olds sit quietly while being catheterized? Just the facts please with less drama.


you assume these are not the facts?


I know for a fact you can do similar drug tests using hair samples. This is ridiculous


A similar thing happened to me in Massachusetts in the early 1990s. My daughter fell and broke her wrist. Suddenly the DSS was all over us - accusing us of "child neglect" because we failed to prevent her falling out of her crib. They ordered us to subject her to an invasive "body scan" to determine if there were any latent injuries?? This "body scan" they specified was in fact a test where they inject radioactive material into the blood. Which is not even a test for latent injuries, but for cancer. Her pediatrician was appalled. A doctor did NOT need to order this testing. The DSS social worker ordered it! And they had the authority to do this!!! This was exposed after we had to hire an attorney. We refused to subject her to this at the recommendation of our doctors. Our lives were a living hell for over a year. These people have to be stopped!!!


You could argue for criminal charges in this case. Let's see, we have sexual assault of a minor, assault resulting in injury "he has a staph infection now", and I'm sure they pulled some other shit here.

Leila Garcia

I was told that my 3 month old baby had to be cathaterized because he had a fever and theu needed a clean sample of urine. It was horrendous. Because his penis was too small, and uncircumsized, they couldn't get the cathater in. They couldn't find the hole, the cathater was too big and for 10 minutes I watched sobbing as they made me help hold him down until I couldn't take it anymore. It took several people numerous attempts to force it in. He was left scratched up with small tears around the opening of the hole. He was screaming the whole time. I should have stopped them. They should have stopped. He had issues with infection on the tip of hid penis after that.

Laura Bratland

Yes ACLU- when are you going to stand up for the noncondenting minors who are strapped down and mutilated during routine infant circumcision? Babies don't have religions- so that argument is moot.


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