Posts tagged with "adequate supervision"

Courts May Substantiate Physical Neglect in the Absence of an Adverse Impact on the Child

Cases involving the Department of Children and Families typically involve relatively serious allegations of physical and/or emotional neglect. However, as the following case illustrates, even conduct that does not result in physical or emotional harm to a child can lead to very serious consequences.

In this particular case, the plaintiff was an employee at a safe home located in the Hartford, Connecticut area, and was responsible for watching over children. One August afternoon, the plaintiff took a small group of children bowling. During the outing, he made three additional stops, each time leaving the children alone in the car. During the first stop, which lasted just a couple of minutes, the children were visible from within the store, and the plaintiff stepped outside periodically to confirm contact with them. He was able to observe the children during the second stop as well; however, at times, the car was obscured from his view. The plaintiff was in the second store for approximately two minutes. During the third and final stop, the plaintiff went into a grocery store, leaving the children in a covered parking area such that they were not visible at all from within the store. The plaintiff never left the keys in the car, and the children reported that, although it was hot in the vehicle, they were never scared or fearful when the plaintiff was gone.

The hearing officer upheld the substantiation of physical neglect on the basis that the plaintiff failed to provide adequate supervision for the three children by leaving them alone in the vehicle. The hearing officer stated that “to support a finding of physical neglect, DCF must demonstrate that the plaintiff acted in a neglectful manner toward the children” and, absent a specific adverse impact, must demonstrate that the plaintiff’s behavior was “so egregious it demonstrated a serious disregard for the children’s welfare.”

On appeal, the reviewing court held that the hearing officer was correct in concluding the plaintiff was neglectful. The Court relied in part on the fact that the plaintiff admitted to a DCF investigator he had acted irresponsibly and had made a “mistake.” Although the court conceded the children were not adversely impacted, it nevertheless agreed with the hearing officer that even in the absence of an adverse impact, if a single incident demonstrates a serious disregard for the children’s welfare, DCF may make a finding of physical neglect. The court further found that although the first two times the children were left for short periods and in the plaintiff’s plain view, the third time he left them in a limited access parking lot, which the hearing officer could reasonably conclude was inappropriate and showed a “serious disregard” as it was still uncomfortable in the van, and the children were exposed to harm from third parties. The court also noted that the hearing officer could reasonably conclude that the plaintiff showed “serious disregard” because he had a special duty to protect the children, already committed to DCF and assigned to his care.

Should you have any questions regarding DCF matters, or family matters generally, please do not hesitate to contact Michael D. DeMeola. He can be reached by telephone in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100, or by e-mail at mdemeola@mayalaw.com.
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