Releasing a Child From Care

 Recently, at a Home Child Care Provider's Support Group meeting a topic came up that was a bit difficult to address: Does a caregiver release a child from care when the pickup person appears intoxicated, or if the vehicle the child will be a passenger in does not have a child seat? This discussion lead to other questions about who to release a child to and how to protect oneself in these situations.

Although, it may depend on circumstances and laws governing your state or province, the best defense caregivers have is obtaining child release information during the registration or enrollment process and to clearly go over their policies with regards to releasing a child from care. These policies should include a clause about intoxication and proper vehicle seating. It is also important to emphasize that the information in the Registration or Enrollment Form is confidential and will not be released to anyone.

What Information Should You Have?

What information about releasing a child from care should caregivers gather? Guidelines for Releasing Children, a phamplet produced by the Public Counsel Law Center in California, recommends caregivers ask the following parents for the following:

*Each parent’s legal relationship to the child;      
*Whether any other person has a legal relationship to the child (through adoption or re-marriage);
*Information regarding custody arrangements and a copy of the court custody order;
*A copy of the child’s birth certificate;
*The name, address, and telephone number of the non-enrolling parent and (whether or not the child has any contact with the other parent).
*The authors of Guidelines for Releasing Children also suggest that providers consider obtaining photographs of the authorized pickup persons. "This procedure also shows that the provider is being cautious and responsible, and thereby less likely to be found negligent."

Obviously when it comes to custody battles, situations of child abuse, and cases of domestic violence, caregivers need to protect the child as well as themselves. That means knowing how to handle situations that may occur should a non-authorized person want to remove the child from care.

The Guide Recommends That Caregivers:

Take all reasonable steps to resist the person’s demands;
Stay calm;
Obtain the person’s name and ask to see some identification (if possible, make a copy of the identification);
Explain that both the law and the facility’s rules prevent the release of the child to any unauthorized person;
Explain that the only exception would be if the enrolling parent has signed a written authorization and it has been verified with the provider;
Immediately call the custodial parent and inform him or her about the situation;
If the parent confirms that the person is unauthorized, try to stall the person until the parent arrives, without releasing the child; and
If the person abducts the child by force, obtain a detailed description of the unauthorized person, record the person’s license plate, take note of the direction in which they went, and immediately call the police.
When it comes to an intoxicated parent or guardian, while you may have strict guidelines in your Policy Manual that says you will not release a child under such circumstances, you may not have much choice if the pickup person insists. The first course of action is to detain the person as long as possible and call the custodial or other parent to inform them of the situation if possible. In the event you've little choice but to release the child despite your best efforts to the contrary, take down the license plate of the vehicle and call the police.

As for releasing a child when you know the vehicle is not equip with the proper car seat, it is wise to contact the parent(s) for instructions. Ultimately the parent is responsible for the safety of the child. You can, however, offer to lend a spare car seat to the pickup person if one is available. Your next step would be to talk to the parents about the non-release clause in your Policy Manual and their signature acknowledging that they have read and accepted the terms of this Manual, and that should the incident occur again you will terminate the care immediately.

When it comes to releasing a child from care in tough situations, quite often it comes down to using common sense and good judgment as to what a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances. And, if circumstances warrant, contacting the police for advice.


Guidelines for Releasing Children and Custody Issues
Public Counsel
Child Care Law Project
601 South Ardmore Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90005
213.385.2977, ext. 300