Netflix has just released the highly anticipated documentary, “Take Care of Maya,” which unveils the heart-wrenching journey of the Kowalski family as they confront and challenge wrongful child abuse allegations. Directed by Henry Roosevelt, also known for his role in “The Social Network,” the documentary delves deep into the lives of the Kowalskis, shedding light on the devastating consequences of false accusations and the relentless fight for justice. “Take Care of Maya” premiered at Tribeca Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. The documentary was released on June 19 and since then has ranking number 2 in all Netflix films on June 24 and received over 1000 ratings on IMDb.
“Take Care of Maya” centers around the Kowalski family’s harrowing experience as they attempt to prove their innocence amidst false child abuse allegations of their daughter Maya, who lives with severe pain due to complex regional pain syndrome. When Maya’s mother, Beata, took her to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for further treatment in 2016, she got flagged by Child Protective Services, and the family’s ordeal began. 10-year-old Maya was taken into state custody, and for the next three months, mother Beata was not allowed to see her child while relentlessly fighting the accusations against her to restore their family and get Maya the medical support the young girl needed. According to media reports, the title “Take Care of Maya” is based on prayers by mother Beata, who was hoping for some relief for her daughter Maya’s pain.
The documentary intimately captures the emotional turmoil the whole family experiences, specifically showcasing the immense strain on mother Beata that results from such unfounded charges and sadly later led to her death. The film also provides an inside look at the controversial tactics that hospitals utilize when deciding cases of medical child abuse, and the shortcomings of our legal system to evaluate such cases in a timely manner.
However, the Kowalskis’ gripping story sheds light on the broader issue of wrongful child abuse allegations, especially in the community of complex and rare illnesses. It’s a more significant issue faced by parents with medically complex children not only in the US but worldwide. And it’s not a new problem either. It hasn’t suddenly arisen out of nowhere. Parents with children living with the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes have had to fight the system for decades, with little to no support from many organizations around the globe. And we simply don’t talk about it enough.
Medically complex children, such as those with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), are at a high risk of being mistaken for child abuse cases due to the unique challenges and symptoms they face. These conditions often manifest with symptoms that can mimic signs of physical abuse, such as unexplained bruising, fractures, or chronic pain. The complexity of these conditions, coupled with the low awareness and knowledge among healthcare professionals and the general public, can lead to misunderstanding and misinterpreting a child’s symptoms. The fluctuating nature of symptoms and the lack of visible physical evidence add another layer. To the doctor untrained in multi-systemic conditions, all these factors may contribute to the potential for false child abuse allegations.
“The emotional trauma and financial burden that children and families falsely accused endure cannot be understated,” says Donna Sullivan, a patient advocate for The Coalition Against Pediatric Pain, and producer of the upcoming EDS film about false allegations, Complicated. “These moms are often ‘diagnosed’ as having Munchausen by proxy (also known as Factitious Disorder imposed on another) without proper DSM evaluation by a trained psychiatrist and yet the label itself destroys their credibility and impacts their ability to defend themselves.”
“Take Care of Maya” ignited a much-needed conversation about the need for reform within a flawed legal system. It prompts us to critically examine systemic shortcomings that contribute to the perpetuation of such injustices, calling for a more ethical, careful, and just approach to these sensitive cases. We must stop tearing innocent families apart because, as we can shockingly see in “Take Care of Maya,” the consequences of such false accusations on the individual and the family are severe and often irreversible.
Over the last few days, “Take Care of Maya” has unleashed a lot of anger from its viewers towards Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, with parents and physicians alike asking for the responsible doctors who accused Beata Kowalski of Munchausen by proxy (a rare and complex form of abuse in which a caregiver, typically a parent or guardian, intentionally fabricates, exaggerates, or induces illness or injury in another person under their care) to be removed and for Johns Hopkins to do better.
However, we need to do more than that. It’s not only Johns Hopkins. It’s a systemic and structural problem nationwide (and even internationally). This film must be a call to action. It asks us all to step up. And there are several ways every one of us can help:
- Educate yourself and others: Learn more about multi-systemic, complex conditions like Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Spread awareness among your social circles, healthcare professionals, and local communities.
- Support advocacy organizations: For instance, consider donating to organizations like TCAPP (The Coalition Against Pediatric Pain) that work tirelessly to support families facing wrongful child abuse allegations and promote reform in the legal system. They are also producing a film about wrongful child abuse allegations, which needs your support: https://tcapp.org/complicated-the-film/
- Advocate for legislative changes: Contact your local representatives and policymakers to raise awareness about the issue of wrongful child abuse allegations. Encourage them to review and reform existing laws and policies to ensure that medically complex children and their families receive proper support, protection, and understanding. If this is not your area of expertise, you can also donate your time to an organization that has more experience and support them.
- Promote professional training and guidelines: Advocate for improved training and guidelines for healthcare professionals, especially in recognizing and differentiating between medical conditions such as EDS and signs of abuse. Encourage medical institutions to prioritize education on rare and complex conditions to prevent misinterpretation of symptoms.
- Share your voice: Utilize social media platforms, blogs, and other channels to share stories, experiences, and information related to wrongful child abuse allegations and the challenges faced by affected families.
- Learn more about child abuse allegations related to EDS: https://www.ehlers-danlos.com/pediatric-eds-and-hsd-exploring-the-impact-of-misdiagnosis/#1610187752083-86d33d07-e03b
Together, we can work towards a future where medically complex children receive appropriate care, support, and understanding, while also safeguarding them from unwarranted accusations of abuse.
More about the Kowalski’s story: