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DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services - "undeniably Tragic", Who Was Protecting Joshua?, Impact, The Custody Battle, Further Readings

abuse petitioner occurring prevent


Melody DeShaney for her son, Joshua DeShaney


Winnebago County Department of Social Services

Petitioner's Claim

That the social workers and the county had violated Joshua DeShaney's right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by its failure to intervene to protect Joshua from his father's violence.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Donald J. Sullivan

Chief Lawyer for Respondant

Mark J. Mingo

Justices for the Court

Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, William H. Rehnquist (writing for the Court), Antonin Scalia, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting

Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

22 February 1989


That Winnebago County Department of Social Services was not responsible for Joshua's severe beating, even though they had ample evidence that abuse was occurring and did nothing to prevent it.


That the state could not be held liable for child abuse, even if they knew that abuse was occurring and did nothing to prevent it.

Related Cases

  • Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).
  • Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977).
  • Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982).


Hancock, LynNell and Judith Regan. "Putting Working Moms in Custody." Newsweek, 13 March 1995.

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over 3 years ago

To improve this website add what happened to the case after, if they changed their decision. Then add what is the law now and what improved. What happened to joshua's father?

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over 10 years ago

Very interesting, but too sad that social services KNEW there was abuse and they can't protect the poor innocent, helpless toddler!!! Sad how our gov't
systems work, shame on them. All they
want is their money, but do a pisspoor
job when it really comes down to HELPING
those in need!

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about 11 years ago

this have been very informative to me, thank god that i found this website.

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3 months ago

this is so sad I feel so bad for him and his mother GBA