“The abuse of children is a despicable act,” say George and Bette McFetridge in a recent court filing. “Adults who knowingly abuse children are to be utterly reviled, and rightfully so. And to be officially identified as a child abuser, one of the most heinous of labels, is the modern equivalent of being branded with the scarlet letter “A” like Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter. To be accused of child abuse may be our generation’s contribution to defamation per se, a kind of moral leprosy. …”
Mr. McFetridge and his wife are among the many who were wrongfully accused of abusing a child they were fostering and placed on the Child Abuse Central Index, a list kept by the Department of Justice and open to the public. The McFetriges were investigated by a single social worker who determined that she could not say whether or not abuse actually occurred and therefore found that the case was “inconclusive.” Current law mandates that despite the fact the social worker couldn’t verify abuse, the McFetridges’ names must be placed on CACI. Such a listing prevents the McFetridges from serving as foster parents, adopting children, opening a day care, coaching children, or working as child advocates.
The McFetridges were eventually given an administrative hearing on these charges and were exonerated. Under the law, a hearing is only permitted after the accused’s name is placed on the CACI. As such, the subsequent finding of innocence did nothing to reverse the awful damage done to the reputations of the McFetridges in their community.
Feeling the intense embarrassment and horror of being accused for something they did not do, Mr. McFetridge, who was a Deputy District Attorney, decided to sue the County of Orange alleging due process violations and wrongful government interference with his reputation.
His suit is still pending. (To learn more about the McFetridges, go to :https://taxdollars.ocregister.com/2010/03/08/adoption-gone-awry-launches-couple-onto-child-abuse-list/52663/
Many individuals find themselves in the same situation as the McFetridges, wrongly accused. Because accused parents or guardians are understandably embarrassed and do not want any extra attention, agencies, such as Child Protective Services, get away with doing shoddy investigations in the name of protecting children. These agencies may find it easier to determine a case “inconclusive” than to actually establish whether the abuse happened or not, as it makes the agency appear active in investigating child abuse.
Currently before the California Legislature is a bill that would stop the practice of placing individual’s names on the CACI if the case is determined “inconclusive.” (AB 717) While this is a good first step, it does not go far enough because it fails to force agencies to give accused individuals the right to a hearing before being placed on the CACI.
If you find yourself in situation like that of the McFetridges, make sure you call your attorney, learn your rights, and request a hearing as soon as possible. You can review your current rights at the following link: