IV. D-1. Child Abuse and Neglect Findings

Effective 1/01/2015

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I.SUBJECT

 

Office of Child and Family Services Child Abuse and Neglect Findings Policy

 

II.PHILOSOPHY

 

The Office of Child and Family Services of The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is mandated to receive reports of suspected child maltreatment, to assess appropriate allegations, and to reach decisions, based on the preponderance of facts and evidence, about whether or not a child has indeed been harmed and, if harmed, to what degree of severity.  When it has been determined that a child has been seriously harmed or is in danger, child safety must be established and maintained well into the future. When a child has experienced low or moderate severity maltreatment, child protection services may be offered to families in order to help reduce risk of maltreatment well into the future.  

 

III.PURPOSE

 

This policy informs staff of the definitions and guidelines in deciding on whether or not to unsubstantiate, indicate or substantiate a person responsible for a child when an assessment has been completed due to allegations of child abuse and/or neglect.

 

IV.PRACTICE MODEL

 

In our response to child safety concerns, we reach factually supported conclusions in a timely and thorough manner.

 

V.DEFINITIONS:

 

Abuse or neglect means a threat to a child's health or welfare by physical, mental or emotional injury or impairment, sexual abuse or exploitation, deprivation of essential needs or lack of protection from these or failure to ensure compliance with school attendance requirements under Title 20-A, section 3272, subsection 2, paragraph B or section 5051-A, subsection 1, paragraph C, by a person responsible for the child.

 

A finding is a decision reached by a social worker based on the facts and evidence gathered during an assessment to support a decision that a “person responsible for a child” has, by a preponderance of the evidence, abused or neglected a child.

 

Indicated finding means that facts and evidence gathered during an assessment/investigation support a decision that a “person responsible for a child” has, by preponderance, subjected that child to low or moderate severity abuse and/or neglect.

 

Person responsible for a child means a person with responsibility for a child’s health or welfare, whether in the child’s home or another home, or a facility which, as part of its function, provides for care of the child.  It includes the child’s custodian.  In licensed Maine Residential facilities, a “caregiver” may be determined to be “a person responsible for the child”.

 

Preponderance of evidence means that the evidence gathered in the assessment/investigation demonstrates that the existence of the contested fact is more probable (at least 51%) than its nonexistence. This standard of proof equates to “more likely than not”.

 

Risk is the likelihood that a child may experience some form of abuse and/or neglect based on factors and/or circumstances to which that child has been exposed.

 

Severity is the degree to which a child has been impacted by maltreatment.  The degrees of severity are low/moderate or high.

 

Substantiated finding means that facts and evidence gathered during an assessment/investigation support a decision that a “person responsible for a child” has, by preponderance, subjected that child to specific high severity abuse and/or neglect thus causing the child to be in danger.

 

Threat of means a child is exposed to one or more risk factors that may imminently cause that child to experience high severity child abuse, neglect.  When deciding whether or not a “threat of sexual abuse” exists, the time frame being considered may be extended, but only when the social worker/investigator has documented an analysis of the specific factors about the abuser and the likelihood for him/her to sexually abuse a child in a specific case which sufficiently supports that finding when it was reached.

 

Unsubstantiated finding means that facts and evidence gathered during an assessment/investigation support a decision that a “person responsible for a child” has not, by preponderance, subjected that child to specific abuse and/or neglect.  

 

Very likely means that there exists a supportable, firm intellectual conviction that the facts observed in the assessment/investigation process will result in specific high severity child maltreatment outcomes.

 

VI.LEGAL BASE

 

Title 22 M.R.S.§ 4002 & 4004 (C-1)

 

VII.PROCEDURE STATEMENT

 

GUIDELINES FOR DETERMINING THE SEVERITY OF ABUSE/NEGLECT:

Physical Abuse – High Severity

(A substantiated finding)

A social worker/investigator reaches a substantiated finding for physical abuse when:

 

1.An individual has been determined to have been “a person responsible for the child”;  and

 

2.That person caused a serious physical injury to that child that required medical attention (whether or not medical attention was actually received). This does not include parental behaviors prior to a child’s birth; or

 

3.That person has engaged in confirmed conduct, past or present, that is unlikely to change in a timely manner and that created an immediate risk (threat of) of serious physical injury to a child, which, if to occur, would require medical attention.

Physical Abuse – Low or Moderate Severity

(An Indicated finding)

A social worker/investigator reaches an indicated finding for physical abuse when:

 

1.A person has been determined to have been “a person responsible for the child”; and

 

2.That person caused or engaged in behavior that was likely to cause a minor physical injury to that child that did not or would not require medical attention.  This does not include parental behaviors prior to a child’s birth.

Neglect – High Severity

(A substantiated finding)

A social worker/investigator reaches a substantiated finding for neglect when:

 

1.A person has been determined to have been “ a person responsible for the child”; and

 

2.That person failed to provide essential food, clothing, shelter, care, supervision, medical and/or mental health treatment when that failure caused or was very likely to cause (threat of) a serious injury, serious illness or serious impairment in the near future that required or would require treatment; or

 

3.That person has allowed or deprived a child at least 7 years of age and has not completed grade 6  to have the equivalent of 7 full days of unexcused absences or 5 consecutive days of unexcused absences during the school year when not attending school has had documentable serious impact upon the child; or

 

4.That person failed to protect that child from experiencing high severity physical, sexual, emotional abuse and/or neglect caused by another person that could have been prevented. However, in domestic violence cases, this finding can only be reached for the adult victim of the abuser when that person is a party to a child protection petition that has been filed that seeks to ensure child safety.  

Neglect – Low or Moderate Severity

(An indicated finding)

A social worker/investigator reaches an indicated finding for neglect when:

 

1.A person has been determined to have been “ a person responsible for the child”; and

 

2.That person failed to provide essential food, clothing, shelter, care, supervision, medical and/or mental health treatment when that failure caused and/or was likely to cause a minor injury, minor illness  or minor impairment in the near future that did not or would not require treatment; or

 

3.That person failed to protect the child from experiencing low to moderate severity physical, sexual, emotional abuse and/or neglect caused by another person that could have been prevented.  This finding does not apply in a domestic violence case where the person having failed to protect is the adult victim of the abuser, or

 

4.That person has allowed or deprived a child at least 7 years of age and has not completed grade 6 to have the equivalent of 7 full days of unexcused absences or 5 consecutive days of unexcused absences during the school year when not attending school has had documentable minor impact upon the child.

High Severity Sexual Abuse

(A substantiated finding)

A social worker/investigator reaches a substantiated finding of child sexual abuse when:

 

1.   A person has been determined to have beena person responsible for the child”; and

 

2.   That person had physical contact with either a child’s breasts, genitals, buttocks, or other body parts in a sexualized manner or for sexual gratification; or

 

3.   That person had that child touch him/herself or anyone else in a sexualized manner; or

 

4.   That person is a convicted child sexual offender or previously substantiated sexual abuser of child/ren who has unsupervised access and/or contact with a child in contradiction of law or DHHS child safety plan and so poses a threat of sexual abuse to that child imminently; or

 

5.   That person who is not a convicted sexual offender or substantiated sexual abuser has engaged in confirmed sexual conduct, past or present that is unlikely to change in a timely manner and that has created an imminent threat of sexual abuse to that child; or

 

6.   That person created or caused to be created, or that permitted or distributed sexualized media content (e.g. photographs, videos, recordings, etc.), involving a child; or

 

7.   That person intentionally and purposefully subjected that child to suggestive remarks, sexualized behaviors or to a sexualized environment (including prostitution or human trafficking), that caused and/or creates a threat to that child to be sexually abuse; or

 

8.   That person forces or encourages a child to view either adult or child pornography.


 

 


Emotional abuse – High Severity    (A substantiated finding)

A social worker/investigator reaches a high severity finding for emotional abuse when:

 

1.A person has been determined to have been “a person responsible for the child”; and

 

2.That person has acted in such a way as to have caused a child to experience “serious harm” (mental or emotional injury or impairment which now or in the  very near future is likely to be evidenced by serious mental, behavioral or personality disorder; severe anxiety, depression or withdrawal; untoward aggressive behavior; seriously delayed development; or other serious dysfunctional behavior); or

 

3.That person has exposed a child to a pattern of or at least one serious incident of domestic violence.  Exposure to very serious physical violence equates to high severity impact.  However, in a domestic violence case, this only applies when the person with findings is an adult victim of the abuser AND a child protection petition has been filed with that person as a party to that action that seeks to ensure child safety.

Emotional Maltreatment – Low or Moderate Severity   (An indicated finding)

A social worker/investigator reaches an indicated finding of emotional abuse when:

 

1. A person has been determined to have been a person responsible for the child; and

 

2.That person has exposed that child to circumstances, behaviors or conditions that resulted in that child demonstrating a noticeable degree of emotional impairment or distress.

 

NOTIFICATION OF FINDINGS TO A “PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CHILD”:

 

Any “person responsible for the child” who is determined, by a preponderance of facts and/or evidence gathered during an assessment, to have harmed a child is entitled to receive a timely written notice within 10 days of the findings being reached along with the specific facts that support each individual finding.  This information must be provided in a language that the “person responsible for the child” can easily understand (sixth grade reading level).

 

The notice will also provide a “person responsible for the child” with information both about the Office of Child and Family Services MACWIS database, the potential “collateral consequence” for present and future employment, and the right to appeal in accordance with the Rules Governing the Appeal of Child Maltreatment Findings.

 

FINDINGS OF ABUSE OR NEGLECT BY A MINOR:

 

A  person under the age of 18 may be substantiated or indicated if he/she is a biological parent to the child, or he/she was “a person responsible for a child”, and maltreated that child when that child was in the minor’s care.  However, in both these circumstances, a District Program Administrator must approve and document in MACWIS what supported the findings.  Special consideration will be given to the age of the minor, how it was determined that he/she was “a person responsible for the child” when maltreatment occurred, and the factors that were considered in deciding he/she was the one who maltreated the child.  

 

 

NOTIFICATION TO A MINOR:

 

In the event that findings are reached for a minor, both that minor and his/her custodian must be notified of the specific findings and the facts that support those findings, as well as the right of appeal.  This notification requires a “face to face” meeting with both the minor and his/her custodians followed up with a written notice of findings.  Either or both the minor and his/her custodian may appeal the findings before the minor reaches the age of 25.

 

DISCLOSURE OF FINDINGS:

 

For information regarding records disclosure please refer to Title 22, M.R.S. §4008

Employers: Only high severity, substantiated child maltreatment findings will be disclosed by The Office of Child & Family Services to potential employers regarding potential employees who are or may be engaged in specified categories of child related activities or employment.