At a recent DeKalb Bar Family Section meeting, Family Section Board member Georgia Lord heard attorneys Lila Bradley and Lynn Goldman of Claiborne Fox Bradley LLC provide a wealth of practical information regarding Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) investigations and related Juvenile Court proceedings. Ms. Bradley and Ms. Goldman noted that a DFCS investigation can pop up unexpectedly during a custody dispute (for instance, in response to a complaint by other party or a member of their family), and cautioned that the manner in which a parent responds to the investigator can have a critical impact on the outcome of their custody case (and the wellbeing of the child involved).
They cautioned that Juvenile Court litigation should be handled by a specialist who is well-versed in the rules and procedures of that court.
Their suggestions included things to try to do and things to avoid doing when responding to DFCS staff. For example, here are several things persons who are the subject of a DFCS investigation should not do:
- Do not underestimate the power of the government – because the DFCS staff member’s assessment of the situation plays a key role in determining whether your child is removed from your home, at least in the short term;
- Do not ask your lawyer to call the DFCS case manager – because the case manager will decline to talk to the attorney and simply refer them to the agency’s counsel;
- Do not sign anything – especially a Safety Plan – before reviewing it with your lawyer – because you can be stuck with these terms for a long time; and,
- Do not expect to find out who made the report to DFCS – because the agency is prohibited by law from disclosing that information.
On the other hand, there are some things that clients can do to foster a favorable outcome from a DFCS investigation:
- Keep your focus on the welfare of the child;
- Hold your temper;
- Be respectful and cooperative;
- Be sensitive to race and class issues (e.g., avoid saying things that can be heard as elitist or condescending);
- Get the name and contact information of each DFCS person that you talk to as well as each person’s immediate supervisor;
- Ask for details of the complaint;
- Make contemporaneous notes of each and every conversation with DFCS;
- Consult with a lawyer immediately;
- Take the child to a doctor for an examination if physical abuse is alleged;
- Expect DFCS to interview the child outside of parents’ presence; and,
- Take a lawyer to the Family Team Meeting.
Ms. Goldman and Ms. Bradley also presented a flow chart that gives an overview of the DFCS investigation process and the Juvenile Court proceedings that can follow: