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Can Children and Youth Be Sued for Sexual Abuse.

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A recent arrest of five Lackawanna County Office of Child and Youth Services employees raises questions about these agencies’ liability. The charges are failure to report child neglect.

While cases remained open and active, the workers ignored unacceptable conditions in several homes. The children were not removed and remained in unsuitable conditions. These conditions ranged from lack of heat in a home, hoarding conditions, piles of garbage, feces, and rotten food. Any of these conditions should have resulted in the removal of children for their protection. 

One foster parent was not physically or mentally fit to care for a child. In another case, a woman died. The workers arrested did not correctly track or monitor these cases. They did not act to protect the children by removing them from unsafe conditions. 

What is the Role of Children and Youth?

Children and Youth Agencies play a vital role in supporting and advocating for the well-being and rights of children and youth. Workers are responsible for offering emotional, social, and practical support to children and young people facing various challenges. Responsibilities involve listening to their concerns, offering guidance, and providing a safe and supportive environment.

Children and Youth workers are responsible for assessing the needs and circumstances of children and young people.  Workers conduct assessments, gather information, and identify areas of support or intervention as required.

Based on the assessed needs, Children and Youth workers are responsible for developing individualized plans or programs tailored to the specific requirements of each child. These plans may include educational, therapeutic, or social activities to promote growth and development. Workers place children and youth in safe, nurturing foster and adoptive homes. 

They continually monitor these placements to ensure protection and safety and prevent and address abuse, neglect, and exploitation. 

When Can Children and Youth Face Civil Liability?

In most jurisdictions, Children and Youth have immunity under the law and cannot be sued civility for failing in their duty to protect children. In 2019 an important piece of legislation in Pennsylvania gave way to an easier way to hold Child Protective Services by eliminating sovereign immunity in child sexual abuse cases. 

Successful lawsuits for sexual abuse typically prove that the agency was negligent in protecting the child from harm or that its actions or inactions contributed to the abuse.  Demonstrating that the agency had prior knowledge of the abuser’s behavior and failed to take appropriate action. Or that the agency’s policies or practices were inadequate in preventing or responding to abuse cases.

Liability happens for various actions or failures that harm or injure a child or young person. Some potential grounds for liability in civil court against the Department of Children and Youth agency in Pennsylvania include:

  1. Negligence: If the agency or its employees acted negligently or failed to exercise reasonable care in their duties and that negligence caused harm, injury, or damages.
  2. Failure to Investigate or Report Abuse: If they fail to properly investigate or report allegations of abuse or neglect, resulting in harm or injury to a child. They may be liable for failing to fulfill their obligations under child protection laws.
  3. Negligent Hiring or Supervision: If Children and Youth negligently hire or supervise its employees, and as a result, a child or young person suffers harm or injury due to the actions or misconduct of agency personnel. Liability comes from its failure to exercise reasonable care in hiring and supervision.

An Attorney Can Help Determine Your Rights

It’s important to note that each case’s circumstances and facts will determine the viability and success of a civil suit. Consulting with a sexual abuse lawyer at Andreozzi + Foote can provide accurate guidance and advice tailored to the situation.

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