After the Franklin County Children’s Services (FCCS) denied a mother access to view records pertaining to the alleged abuse of her daughter, she filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court. Ohio’s high court ruled yesterday that the mother did not present good cause that could supersede the FCCS’s confidentiality requirement.
The mother’s complaint to the Ohio Supreme Court argued that FCCS’s policies should have allowed her to review records involving her and her children. The mother took an interest in obtaining these FCCS records after she found out the agency had changed their position on her daughter’s case from “allegations unsubstantiated” to “indicative of abuse.”
The Ohio Supreme Court found that, while FCCS policy does give individuals the right to examine case records that involve them, the mother in this case would have had to show a clear legal duty. The court went on to explain that legal duty in writ of mandamus cases (an order given by the court requiring a party to perform a legal obligation) cannot be established unless the General Assembly passes it into law. FCCS policy does not reflect state law, so in other words, the FCCS is not under legal obligation to provide these records, even though their own policy sanctions it.
The Ohio Supreme Court also analyzed public records laws to see if these had any bearing on this case. The court found that, in Ohio law, records in cases of alleged child abuse are actually explicitly confidential, and therefore exempt from any public disclosure laws.
The only option left is if the executive director allowed access to these records because the petitioner showed good cause – in this case “good cause” would require proof that the disclosure would be in the child’s best interests OR proof of due process rights. Even if good cause is shown, it must outweigh the reasons the records are being kept confidential.
The court stated that, while they were sympathetic toward the mother’s obvious concern for her child’s wellbeing, she did not show good cause through:
- Proof of best interests of the child – in this case, this could have manifested itself by the mother alleging that her daughter was in danger.
- Proof that her due process rights as a petitioner were being violated
For more information on this case, you can read Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-3425.