Swan, Rita

Picture of Giraffe Swan, Rita

Rita Swan prayed for her son to get well, certain that the spiritual healing taught by her church would save her baby. When 15-month-old Matthew died of meningitis, Swan’s religious convictions shattered.

Swan turned her grief into a crusade to save other children from her son’s fate. As co-founder and president of Sioux City-based Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty, Inc. (CHILD), she works against medical neglect of children based on religious beliefs, despite receiving abusive, threatening letters and phone calls.

Swan’s files bulge with case histories of children who have died from diabetes, measles, dehydration, bowel obstructions, appendicitis and other conditions that can be cured by basic medical care. Swan tells their heart-wrenching stories to other parents whose religions espouse faith-healing, to state prosecutors, and to the federal government.

Most states’ laws exempt parents who rely on faith-healing from charges of abuse or neglect but prosecutors have begun bringing manslaughter and felony endangerment charges against them if their children die. Swan is the sparkplug of these changes, tracking cases, and flagging suspicious deaths of children. Now Swan is aiming to get the 42 states with religious immunity legislation to repeal those laws, because, “Children have the right to live, and that right has to take precedence over their parents’ right to practice religion.”


The National Association of Counsel for Children gave an award to Rita Swan for her efforts, saying, \"Due in large part to CHILD\'s efforts, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Dakota, Hawaii, and Oregon have removed laws which provided exemptions from prosecution to parents who fail to provide medical care for their sick children based on religion.”

Swan has published a quarterly newsletter, written articles, become a media presence, spoken at conferences on child abuse, lobbied and testified in states where proposed bills would help or hinder her cause, and moved to Oregon for a time during the campaign to pass effective legislation there. She is a fellow of the Institute for Science in Medicine. CHILD is currently headquartered in Lexington KY. The Last Strawberry is her memoir about the death of her infant son.

Follow Rita Swan’s work at http://childrenshealthcare.org/