Removal of Children from Their Homes

A Children’s Services worker was sued for negligence.

Church Law and Tax 1991-03-01 Recent Developments

Child Abuse

An Oregon state appeals court ruled that the state Children’s Services Division could be sued by the parents of a child who was removed from his home by a state worker who acted in a negligent manner. The Children’s Services Division (CSD) received a report that two children had been physically abused by their step-mother. Pursuant to state law, a CSD employee and a police officer investigated the report, and concluded that the children may have been abused. The CSD employee immediately took the children into protective custody. However, she did not first review CSD files, which would have revealed that one of the children had earlier made false accusations of abuse against her step-mother. A few days later, after examining the children in his chambers during a hearing, a judge concluded that there was insufficient evidence of actual or threatened physical injury, and he ordered the children returned to their home. The children’s father and step-mother sued the CSD (and its employee) for “negligent interference with the parental relationship.” They claimed that the CSD investigation had been negligent in that (1) the CSD employee took the children into protective custody without examining CSD files, (2) no doctor’s opinion had been obtained, and (3) CSD failed to discuss the matter with the parents prior to removing the children from their home. A trial court ruled in favor of the parents, and the state appealed. A state appeals court also ruled in favor of the parents. The court rejected CSD’s claim that it and its employees are “immune” from liability for their acts. The court also rejected CSD’s contention that holding it liable would be inconsistent with the state policy of encouraging the protection of children. This case could be very significant. Many ministers have had members whose children have been removed from their home on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations of abuse. This case suggests that such persons may now have a legal remedy in some cases. Mendive v. Children’s Services Division, 794 P.2d 807 (Ore. App. 1990).

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