Colorado Court Says Children Can Sue County Over Abuse

In the second time in about a month, a court has ruled that social workers can be held responsible for failing to protect children under their watch from abuse.

The Colorado Court of Appeals last week ruled that Adams County social workers aren’t protected by the state’s governmental immunity law because they acted “recklessly” in a case involving three siblings who had a history of incest, according to The Denver Post.

The case involves a lawsuit filed by the siblings against Adams County who said social workers failed to protect them from abuse in the home of their biological mother and later in foster care, and that workers deceived their adoptive parents about the extent of their problems.

A couple that adopted the children when they were 9, 6, and 3 in 2002 lost a lawsuit that claimed their marriage failed under the stress caused by the children’s emotional problems.

In a written opinion, the appellate court found it “conscious shocking” that a social worker supported the adoption of the siblings as a group and failed to prepare the adoptive parents to deal with the emotional needs of the children, which the court said put the children at serious risk of harm.

Adams County Attorney Hal Warren declined to comment on the merits of the claims because the case is heading to trial. Warren is reviewing the court’s ruling to decide whether an appeal to the state Supreme Court is possible.

Jordan Factor, one of the siblings’ lawyers in the Adams County case, said he hopes the rulings will improve the quality of care for children.

“Each circumstance is a little different, and this adds to the mix of circumstances in which the courts consistently say that children in the custody of the state of Colorado have a right to be kept safe from harm,” he said. “It is a case that has an opportunity to do real justice.”

Last month, a federal judge ruled that social workers in Denver were not immune from a lawsuit in the case of 7-year-old Chandler Grafner, who was starved to death by his foster parents in May 2007. In that case, the judge noted the neglect of Chandler by social services was also conscious shocking and that a complaint of child abuse made by a teacher’s aide a month before his death was not thoroughly investigated by Denver Human Services.