Legal Memorandum: Duties of a Local Welfare Agency in Child Maltreatment

Issue: Under Minnesota law, does an agency’s failure to make an audio recording of witness interviews invalidate a determination that a child has been maltreated?.

Area of Law: Family Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Maltreatment; Local welfare agency; Protect children from true parental abuse
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: 590 N.W.2d 798; 552 N.W.2d 695; 529 N.W.2d 438; 581 N.W.2d 863
Cited Statutes: Minn. Stat. § 626.556, § 626.556, subd. 10, § 626.556, subd. 10(a), § 626.556, subd. 10e, § 626.556, subds. 10(h), (i) and (j), § 626.556, subd. 10f, § 626.556, subd. 10(h)(2), § 626.556, subd. 10(h)(1); Minn. Stat. § 645.08(1)
Date: 09/01/2000

           A disregard of the mandatory commands of Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, particularly subsections (h), (i), and (j) puts in jeopardy the delicate balance the Legislature sought to strike between the procedural protections to be afforded parents who unquestionably have the right to discipline their children reasonably and the legitimate interest of the State to protect children from true parental abuse.

Where a District Court acted as an appellate court regarding an agency decision, the Court of Appeals will independently review the agency’s record.  Nevels v. Department of Human Servs., 590 N.W.2d 798, 800 (Minn. Ct. App. 1999); Dullard v. Minnesota Dep’t of Human Servs., 529 N.W.2d 438, 442 (Minn. Ct. App. 1995).  Moreover, where the trial court, acting as an appellate court, reached its decision based on the meaning of statutes, the Court of Appeals “will conduct a de novo review of legal issues, and is not bound by the legal conclusions of the district court or of the agency.”  Dullard, 529 N.W.2d at 442.

The Legislature has enacted a comprehensive statutory scheme for the reporting of child abuse, the investigation or assessment of such allegations, a determination of their validity, and the protection of the child, when necessary.  See Minn. Stat. § 626.556.  As part of this statutory framework local welfare agencies are charged with the duty to conduct an “assessment” of whether “maltreatment” of a child has occurred upon receipt of a report alleging, inter alia, physical abuse […]

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