• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that a state was not liable if its social workers failed to remove a child from the custody of the father even after reports of serious child abuse.

The Winnebago County Department of Social Services received numerous complaints of serious beatings administered to Joshua DeShaney by his father, Randy DeShaney, who was given custody of the boy in a divorce proceeding. Despite repeated reports from family members, physicians, case workers, and emergency medical personnel that the child had suffered from several beatings to the head, the social workers did not remove the boy from the home. Finally, the boy was beaten so badly that he suffered permanent brain damage. By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that a state had no constitutional obligation to protect a child from his father even though the state’s social service workers had received multiple reports of serious child abuse. In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice William H. RehnquistRehnquist, William H.;DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services[DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services] found that the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause was negatively worded and created no affirmative obligation for the state to act, even in cases when the state had notice and the child was very young. Justices William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Harry A. Blackmun dissented vigorously, and Blackmun filed a separate dissent.Due process, procedural;DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services[DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services]

Due process, procedural

Due process, substantive

Family and children

Fourteenth Amendment

Gault, In re

Juvenile justice

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