Juvenile Law

Shawn R. McCarver, Esquire

Judgment assuming jurisdiction for emotional abuse is reversed where mother, showing concern for an injured child, made repeated hotlines based upon facts, but which were unsubstantiated by investigators after multiple interviews of the children. Mother cannot control the number of interviews of her children by investigators. Taking pictures of a child’s genitals is not abuse when the pictures are taken to document injuries and then given to the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) and to investigators. In Interest of B.T.C., E.L.C., R.A.C. and A.B.C., Nos. 31601, 31602, 31603 and 31604 (Mo. App. S.D., September 11, 2012), Rahmeyer, J.

The juvenile court assumed jurisdiction over the children, finding that mother emotionally abused the children. This finding was based upon allegations that mother had made repeated hotlines which were unsubstantiated, which resulted in multiple interviews of the children and that mother took pictures of the genitals of one child.

The hotlines were made on eight different dates between August 2009 and April 2011. Allegations were as follows: (1) sexual abuse of one child by another child at the Developmental Center and neglect of the child by a teacher by failure to supervise; (2) domestic violence by father against mother by verbal abuse; (3) behavioral issues of one child at school; (4) that father was off his medication, had guns in the car and threatened mother and the children; (5) that father beat one of the children leaving a quarter-sized bruise on the child’s back; (6) that one child had chemical burns on the genitalia; (7) sexual abuse by father; and, (8) sexual abuse of one child, a repeat of the prior report regarding burns to one child, that father threw a dresser drawer at one child and that father threatened to kill mother.

Mother may have made four of the reports. Those involved actual events or injuries. The remainder of the reports were made by mandated reporters. The issue is not whether the Children’s Division concluded the allegations were unsubstantiated. There was evidence to support each of the allegations allegedly made by mother to the hotline. It is not abuse or neglect for mother to make a hotline call when she had reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or may be subjected to abuse or neglect. Mother’s actions were not emotional abuse. Mother was showing concern when a child was injured.

As to the repeated interviews of the children, this is not a valid claim of abuse. Mother has no control over how many interviews are conducted by either the CAC or the police. If multiple interviews constitute abuse, then only the children’s division can remedy that abuse. Mother did take pictures of the genitals of her child to document the chemical burn.  Mother presented the pictures to the guardian ad litem and to the investigators. Documenting injuries in this fashion is not abuse and the guardian ad litem and the children’s division are both appropriate recipients of those pictures.

As to mother’s removal of the children from school and day care, there is no requirement that the children attend Head Start or any other preschool program. The remaining allegations of the petition do not allege abuse or neglect. The judgment assuming jurisdiction over the children is reversed.