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Ansel v. State Department of Human Services.

2020 COA 172. No. 19CA1676. Institutional Neglect—Colorado Children’s Code—Prudent Parent Standard.

December 18, 2020

Ansel operated an in-home childcare program. One of the children in her care was 11-year-old D.A. While playing a “pets” game in the fenced yard at Ansel’s facility, D.A. found a retractable dog leash and tied it around his neck. He placed the leash on a tree branch near a playhouse and then climbed on top of the playhouse and slipped off. The leash tightened around his neck as he fell. D.A. then removed the leash and went inside, where Ansel was supervising other children, and told her what had happened. Ansel tended to D.A. and contacted his father, who took him to an emergency room for treatment.

The El Paso County Department of Human Services investigated the incident and determined that Ansel was responsible for institutional neglect by failing to adequately supervise D.A. Ansel appealed the finding, and an administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that Ansel’s actions did not constitute child abuse or neglect because she provided the appropriate level of supervision of a “prudent parent.” The Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Appeals (CDHS) reversed the ALJ’s decision. Ansel challenged the final agency decision in district court, which upheld CDHS’s decision.

On appeal, Ansel argued that the CDHS erred in interpreting and applying CRS §19-3-102(1)(b) and CRS § 19-1-103(1)(a)(III). In its review of the ALJ’s initial decision, CDHS appeared to apply both statutory sections in determining whether Ansel’s actions constituted child abuse or neglect. Under CRS § 19-3-102(1)(b), only the actions or omissions of a child’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian can meet the definition of neglect. Here, it is undisputed that Ansel was not the child’s parent or guardian, and while Ansel may have been the child’s “custodian,” she was not the child’s “legal custodian” within the meaning of CRS § 19-3-102(1)(b). Accordingly, CRS §19-3-102(1)(b) is inapplicable in determining whether Ansel’s actions constituted child abuse or neglect, and CDHS erred.

Under CRS § 19-1-103(1)(a)(III), to support a finding of child abuse or neglect the “prudent parent” standard simply requires determining whether a licensed child care provider acted as a prudent parent would have under the circumstances. In applying that standard, it is improper to consider a supervising adult’s status as a licensed child care provider as a circumstance that informs the analysis. Here, CDHS concluded that Ansel had failed to comply with licensing regulations regarding supervision of children by licensed child care providers and that she had thus committed child abuse as defined in CRS § 19-1-103(1)(a)(III). Therefore, CDHS failed to apply the correct prudent parent standard or applied the standard in a manner inconsistent with the plain language of CRS § 19-1-103(1)(a)(III), so its decision was contrary to law.

The judgment was reversed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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