Thursday, August 15, 2013

The dangers of DCFS

I can imagine that an encounter with DCFS is every parent's nightmare.  I mean, sure, when I was young, I would get smart with my mom and threaten to call DCFS.  She was so horrible!  She was punishing me for crazy things like telling a lie or not doing as I was told...the horror!  Her comeback always was go ahead, they can have you!  Of course, we all knew that I would never make that call and, even if I did, my parents would not have wanted DCFS to take me away.  But, it all made good fodder for the fights during the teenage years!

DCFS is an organization that, I believe, could really make positive differences in this world.  The problem is, at this point, it seems that they rarely do.  I have yet to meet an attorney who has anything positive to say about DCFS.  We want to avoid them like the plague.  We don't want our clients involved with them at all.  We don't want our clients calling DCFS on the other parent.  It's not good when DCFS is  involved and, chances are, they will stay involved for a year or more.

What many parents don't realize is that they have rights.  Typically, DCFS shows up and the parents panic.  The parents are scared to death that DCFS has shown up to take away the children.  Because of this fear, most parents are willing to invite DCFS into the home, sit down, and spill their guts to the investigator.  The investigator will act like he has the power to do this anyway even if the parents don't want to talk to him.

It's the investigator's job to find the truth.  In order to do this, the investigator needs to talk to everyone.  I understand that.  I know, from handling divorces and custody cases, it is terribly difficult to figure out who is telling the truth.  However, there are too many times that I've seen pictures of a child with bruises and the investigator settles the case as unfounded (essentially, not guilty).  Then, when I know a tip was called in to the hotline simply out of spite, the investigator settles that case as indicated (guilty).  There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to how the investigator calls the case.

I've seen an investigator question parents and children who are the subject of the hotline tip.  Sometimes, there is another child in a different household, who is not involved at all but is the child of one of the involved parents.  The investigator will tell the other parent to not allow the child any kind of visitation with the parent who is under investigation.  Often those are emotional cases and the other parent is happy to comply.  So, now, not just one, but two families are being torn apart.

My question here is where does that investigator get his power?  Does that investigator actually have the power to discontinue a court order?  I think not.  I've had this very conversation with an investigator and I reminded her that she does not have the power to go against a court order.  She was well aware of that fact, yet still carried on with trying to stop the visitation.  End result was that the investigator left a mess for the attorneys to deal with for months which costs the clients time, money and energy.

Parents in these situations are scared and that is completely understandable.  However, parents have rights and those rights need to be protected as well.  DCFS, in general, needs to revisit the law and rules that govern the organization and remember that all parties involved have rights.

If I have client that is involved with DCFS, I manage that relationship very closely.  I introduce myself to the investigator (or case worker, depending upon when I'm hired) and I let them know I am here to help facilitate the process.  I advise my clients to be cooperative and I explain the process.  I've had situations where I've refused to allow DCFS to speak with my client unless I'm there.  I've had other situations where I've allowed DCFS to speak with my client anytime.  How I approach this is dependent upon how well I already know the investigator or caseworker.

Bottom line.....lawyers are expensive and people typically don't want to spend the money.  BUT, if DCFS shows up at your door with allegations against you, you would be well advised to seek experienced counsel immediately.  Don't let DCFS trample your rights.  Keep them in check.  Make them follow the rules.

If you are interested in learning more on this subject, a very good book regarding the parties' rights is Child Welfare Law and Practice.  If you click the link it will take you to Amazon.  I'm not trying to sell the book.  I just thought it would be convenient for everyone if I linked it.