Colorado Court Rules Social Workers Potentially Liable in Foster Home Abuse

Colorado State Judicial Buildng

Earlier this month, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that social workers in Adams County may be held legally responsible for failures to protect children in foster care from abuse.

The ruling stems from a case involving a lawsuit filed by three siblings, who claim that social workers failed to safeguard them from abuse in their mother’s home, and later deceived their adoptive parents about the severity of their abuse history.

Prior to the ruling, the adoptive parents of the children unsuccessfully filed a separate suit against the Adams County Department of Social Services, claiming that social workers did not disclose the full records of abuse prior to their adoption. Last December, a federal judge ruled that Denver’s social workers could be sued, following the case of a 7-year-old who starved to death under the watch of his foster parents.

The ruling allows the siblings to proceed with their lawsuit against the Adams County Department of Social Services, on the grounds that their rights to safety were violated by county social workers.

The appellate court determined that the state’s division director of Child Welfare Angela Lytle, who supervised social workers Joan Forsmark and Cathy O’Donnell, acted “recklessly in conscious disregard” of the plaintiffs’ safety.

“The conduct put the children at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm that was known to or suspected by Lytle at the time of the adoption,” the court opinion reads. “And such conduct, when viewed in total, is conscience shocking.”

Plaintiff attorney Jordan Factor said that the ruling could pave the way for major changes to the state’s foster home system.

“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,” Factor said. “It is a case that has an opportunity to do real justice.”