Foster mother wins legal dispute with Social Services

She had been accused of neglecting a child

Anne Arundel

July 02, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A West River foster mother who was pursued by the Department of Social Services for child neglect at the same time she taught its classes for new foster parents has won a legal battle to have her name removed from a state database of neglectful parents.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Michael E. Loney upheld Friday an administrative law judge's decision that cleared Peggy Minner of wrongdoing. But she said she still feels victimized by the neglect accusations.

"I am not relieved," said Minner, a foster parent for nearly six years. She and her husband, Henry, adopted four of their five children from among the 14 foster children they have cared for over the years, and she taught a foster care class last night. "I am upset at the fact that I have to pay to clear my name over something that never should have come up."

In November, Administrative Law Judge T. Austin Murphy said the DSS failed to support its allegation that Minner did not properly care for a foster child. He ordered her removed from a private DSS listing of neglectful parents. She would have been on the list for seven years.

"I love kids. If my name were put on a list, on a registry, I wouldn't be able to volunteer at my children's school, I wouldn't be able to work at my church," she said.

A DSS spokeswoman said the agency could not comment, and other officials did not return calls seeking comment. The agency could choose to appeal.

Minner's lawyer, Jonathan A. Gladstone, called the case "crazy."

While one arm of DSS pursued Minner, the other praised her. One morning last month, Minner was the subject of the hearing before Loney. That night, she taught people how to be foster parents. As the Department of Social Services pressed to keep her on the list of neglectful parents, it let the Minners proceed with their fourth foster child adoption.

Meanwhile, the department continued to place children in her home, and she received a gubernatorial commendation - the latest of numerous citations - for her foster care work, said Gladstone.

"At the same time they are trying to put her on the list, they are still holding her out as the example," he said.

The allegations stem from the placement of a 3-year-old girl who had a history of biting. In March last year, the biological mother of the child took her to North Arundel Hospital when she saw eight bite marks on the child in various stages of healing, according to the court file.

A DSS investigator concluded that Minner failed to see the marks (Minner stayed in the bathroom while the girl bathed but did not watch her so the child would feel more comfortable), that she had told her children to bite back if the girl bit them and that she should have watched the child more closely.

Calling it a "classic case of neglect by omission," lawyers for the agency argued that Minner might have been too busy with children at bedtime to adequately check the 3-year-old, and said there was "not much doubt" that at least one of Minner's children had bitten the child. They said they needed to maintain a record of allegations for numerous reasons, including potential liability should future allegations arise.

Minner protested the finding, saying the child had visited her biological family and others, and that investigators could not determine that the bites took place while the girl was in Minner's care. She also said she watched the child carefully and was shocked by the allegations.

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