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Couple lose case over being labeled child abusers for cutting daughter's hair

An Orange County civil jury on Wednesday rejected an Irvine couple’s claim that they were improperly placed on the state’s child abuse registry for punishing their adopted daughter by cutting her hair each time she got in trouble.

After their teenage daughter ran away and lied about her whereabouts in 2008, Bette McFetridge snipped locks off the girl’s hair as punishment with the approval of her husband, George McFetridge, an Orange County deputy district attorney.

A social worker found that it was “inconclusive” whether the hair cutting amounted to emotional abuse, but the McFetridges’ names appeared on the Child Abuse Central Index for 11 months as a result.

The McFetridges sued, alleging that their reputations were damaged, and asked for $28,000 they spent to send their daughter to a residential program, as well as $1 for every month their names were listed on the abuse index – a symbolic award, they said.

“Obviously we’re disappointed. The lawsuit was never about money,” George McFetridge said after the verdict Wednesday.

He said his goal was to draw attention to county procedures that he said stigmatized parents before they were allowed to defend themselves.

“We were hoping to draw attention to what parents face here,” he said. 

TerryLynn Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Social Services Agency, said the law at the time required the social worker to report her “inconclusive” finding to the state, which triggered the McFetridges’ inclusion on the abuse index.

She said the law has been changed so that social workers investigating a complaint are required to report findings deemed “substantiated,” but not “inconclusive” ones.

“We felt confident the social worker had done her job,” Fisher said. “Social workers are really neutral reporting parties. They are there to help.”

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-- Christopher Goffard

 
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