With the close of the Idaho legislature, more children will die

With the close of the Idaho legislature, more children will die

ID legislature

We’re sorry to report that yet another year has gone by in which the Idaho legislature has refused to help children who are getting extremely ill, suffering disability, and dying—all due to lawmakers fiercely clinging to a twisted belief in “religious freedom.”

As you may know, Idaho is home to the Followers of Christ church, which hates and fears doctors so much—and believes so strongly in the power of prayer—that they provide sick children, no matter how ill, with no medical care. Currently, more children die of “faith healing” medical neglect in Idaho than in any other state, because in Idaho, the laws protect parents who commit these abuses from being prosecuted.

This also means that infants struggling for breath at birth are not taken to the hospital. Elementary-school children who have diabetes are refused insulin until they get dehydrated, enter a comatose state, and die. And teenagers risk dying from infection when a simple prescription for antibiotics could cure them.

Of course, for every child who dies, there are untold numbers of others who suffer every day with discomfort, pain, and permanent disability. (Think about these kids the next time you reach for an over-the-counter remedy for a headache, back pain, or menstrual cramps.)

Some progress was made this session. For the first time, lawmakers allowed a bill to have a hearing. SB1182 was far from perfect, but at least it marked an interest among legislators to do something, and members of the public got to speak on behalf of children who have died or are at risk of religious medical neglect.

Also, thanks to the work of tireless child advocates, such as Protect Idaho Kids (which held a vigil at the Capitol for children who have died and are at risk for “faith-healing” medical neglect), Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), and local religious leaders, there was lots of media attention paid to this issue. I wrote a number of op-eds in local papers on behalf of the Child-Friendly Faith Project.

Can we count on you to help save the lives of these kids? The next legislative session isn’t until next January, but the time to act is now. The most important thing you can do is to donate to Protect Idaho Kids and write to legislators in Idaho. You can do all of this from PIK’s website.

Building on Our Success & Striving for Excellence in Our Support of Children & Faith Communities

I’m very pleased to join the CFFP as the new Executive Director. It’s such a privilege to be able to serve the CFFP, the children and survivors we help represent, and the faith groups we work with during this time of organizational growth. As someone who has worked extensively with many faith communities, as well as survivors, I welcome this challenge as we open a new chapter together!

family in hands

Since the CFFP was founded in 2012 there have been many positive strides toward stronger state laws, as well as engagement and training with faith communities to help keep children safe; however, this is a sustained commitment with much more work to be done. I want to build on the momentum of our successes while continuing to evaluate areas that we need to improve so that we’re continually striving for excellence in everything we do.

As the new Executive Director of the CFFP I want to continue on the path of success we’ve achieved under the leadership of former Executive Director, Jan Heimlich, whose energy and enthusiasm for keeping children safe is inspiring. I understand I have big shoes to fill!

My own background includes fourteen years of professional management experience, marketing orchestration, brand management, and training work, as well as extensive volunteer work with children’s inner-city mentorship and after-school programs, orphanages, Sunday schools, and faith organisations. Protecting children within their respective faith communities is a cause that is close to my heart because I’ve personally seen the damage that can be caused if religion is wielded recklessly, but I’ve also seen what a phenomenal gift it can be when it is presented in a safe and nurturing environment.

At the CFFP we have a broad range of initiatives underway, so I will work to ensure those projects come to fruition. During my tenure as Executive Director, I plan to advance the goals and objectives that our Board of Directors has put forth for the organization and I can’t wait to share more about our projects with you over the coming year!

Please be sure to sign up for our email list to so you don’t miss a thing, and for daily updates on our work please stay in touch with us via our social media profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.

Thank you for joining us on this journey!

Tavia Pitkanen

Tavia Pitkanen | Executive Director
The Child-Friendly Faith Project

Tavia serves as the Executive Director of the CFFP and can usually be found within reach of Wi-Fi, spending time with her family, baking, and honing her photography skills. She can be found online here.

Follow the CFFP on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter!

The CFFP welcomes our new Executive Director

The CFFP welcomes our new Executive Director

Hello, friends. I’m extremely pleased to introduce to you our new Executive Director! Tavia Pitkanen, who lives in Minnesota, is experienced in the field of nonprofit management and a strong advocate for children’s rights.

Tavia brings with her fourteen years of experience in professional management. She has exemplified her passion for helping people through world-class nonprofit management, marketing orchestration, brand management and creation, training, cross-cultural relations, and aid work. Read More »

Idaho lawmakers publicly shamed for allowing children to die

Idaho lawmakers publicly shamed for allowing children to die

Mariah Walton who accuses her parents of denying her medical care as a child  (Photo courtesy of Jason Wilson of The Guardian)

The Child-Friendly Faith Project and child advocates in Idaho and around the country have worked hard to raise awareness of an unfolding tragedy: For decades, Idaho has been allowing parents to deny their children needed medical care, as long as they justify such neglect with religion.

Now people around the world are paying attention.

A week ago, The Guardian published a feature that became the no. 1 read story on its site. This week, the issue was covered by both “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show.” Other national and international sites have also covered this issue. Read More »

Idaho wrap-up: ‘Faith healing’ bill is dead, Senator gets an ‘F’ in child advocacy, hopes for an interim committee, and another young member of a faith group dies

boywindowIt would seem that child advocates have closed an agonizing chapter in our fight to help save the lives of children in Idaho who are denied needed medical care due to “faith healing” beliefs. The bill that aimed to protect these children died last week.

But the fight is not over. Child advocates in Boise are looking to form an interim committee, whose goal would be to propose legislation for next year. We will keep you posted on this. Read More »

Idaho committee chairman receives ‘F’ grade in child advocacy

Idaho committee chairman receives ‘F’ grade in child advocacy

One year ago, the Child-Friendly Faith Project and local advocates began meeting with Sen. Lee Heider about a critical issue—Idaho’s failure to protect children from egregious ‘faith healing’ medical neglect. In evaluating his ability to be an advocate for children, the board of the CFFP agrees that the Senator deserves an ‘F.’

Lee Heider

Lee Heider is Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee which was asked to consider a bill that aimed to protect children in Idaho from “faith-healing” medical neglect. Here’s why we believe Sen. Heider deserves a failing grade for his work on this urgent, life-and-death issue. Read More »

Are Idaho lawmakers ready to legalize all religiously motivated child abuse?

Are Idaho lawmakers ready to legalize all religiously motivated child abuse?

girl in white pray_63441574

As Idaho legislators consider a bill that would protect children from egregious “faith healing” medical neglect, some have a lot to say about religious freedom.

Sen. Lee Heider, who chairs the Sen. Health and Welfare Committee, has repeatedly stated that he opposes a bill that would make it illegal for adults to deny children necessary medical care for religious reasons.

“I don’t find fault in the fact that, because of their religious beliefs, we should prosecute them if a child dies. You know, it’s a first amendment right, the freedom of religion.”

“I think everybody cares about the health of children,” Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter told the media, “but we also have to remember the very first amendment to our Constitution. . . . No. 1 was religion. . . . I think it’s important to remember that they didn’t do ‘em alphabetically.”

Given this allegiance to protecting people’s right to freedom of religion, I wonder if legislators would support the legalization of all parenting decisions made in the name of faith that also jeopardize children’s health and safety. Read More »

Idaho Governor talks about ‘faith healing’ child deaths; town hall meeting is held

Idaho Governor talks about ‘faith healing’ child deaths; town hall meeting is held

Panelists at Boise town hall meeting (Nishant Mohan/ID Public Radio)

Last week, before I headed to Boise, Idaho, I was looking forward to being part of a panel discussion organized by local child advocates. The purpose was to offer a public forum for Idahoans who wanted to ask questions and share their views about the state’s religious “faith healing” exemptions.

But I had no idea just how significant the week would turn out to be.

On Wednesday, the day before the event took place, Rep. John Gannon submitted a bill to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. The bill aims to better protect children who are raised in religious groups that reject medical care. (Previously, committee chairman Sen. Lee Heider had promised a hearing if a bill on the issue was submitted to his committee although he remains steadfastly opposed to changing the law.) On Thursday, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter stated he wants the legislature to study the issue. Read More »

Legislators in Idaho don’t like the idea of faith-healing-believing parents being prosecuted for denying their children needed medical care. But chances are, it’s not something they need to worry about.

Given the media attention surrounding “faith healing” child deaths in Idaho, legislators are probably thinking about whether they should change the state’s laws that currently fail to protect children in certain faith communities from medical neglect. Some have said it’s wrong to prosecute parents who neglect their children’s health for religious reasons.

But before lawmakers go too far down that road, I suggest they give thought to a baby named David Hickman.

David was born two months prematurely on September 26, 2009. His parents were members of the Followers of Christ who don’t believe in medical care. So when it was clear that David was going to come well before the due date, his parents didn’t go to a hospital. Instead, they continued with their original plan to have a home birth with no medical professionals present.

David's mother, Shannon Hickman, at her trial

Shannon Hickman, David’s mother at her trial

After David’s tiny body emerged, he seemed okay at first, despite the fact that he weighed only 3 pounds, 7 ounces. But soon after that, the color and muscle tone began leaving his face. His body turned blue. Then gray. Still, his parents only prayed and anointed him with oil. Nine hours after delivery, David died. Medical experts later determined he would have had a 99 percent chance of survival had he been provided medical care. Without medical care, his chances were “zero,” according to court documents. Read More »

An open letter to the people of Idaho

An open letter to the people of Idaho

Lauren in creekMany Idahoans are clear on where they stand on the issue of “faith healing” medical neglect.

There are those who believe that the state has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of its children, including those who are being raised by parents or guardians with extreme beliefs about faith healing. And there are those who believe that religious freedom is so critically important, that parents who religiously oppose medical care may refuse to take their child to a doctor even if it means that child suffers, becomes very sick or permanently disabled, or dies.

But I’m not directing this blog post to either of those groups. Rather, I’m speaking to the undecided, those who aren’t sure which camp they’re in, because they believe in both freedom of religion and a child’s right to be protected from abuse and neglect. Read More »