Each state has its own child protective services agency. In Illinois, that agency is called the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). In Iowa, it goes by the name Department of Human Services (DHS). A person who finds themselves facing a DHS or DCFS investigation, no matter how baseless that investigation may be, is wise to promptly seek an attorney and avoid saying or doing anything until that attorney can review the situation and provide counsel.
The roles of DHS and DCFS include investigating allegations of child abuse, removing children from dangerous or harmful situations, and helping children and families work through problems so that they can reunite. To be sure, those agencies have saved children from death and serious harm. Child abuse is a real problem that needs to be addressed.
However, DCFS and DHS can also pose quite a problem themselves. As an attorney who has represented a great many clients in connection with child abuse and neglect accusations, I can think of numerous situations in which a false child abuse accusation was made, and where DHS or DCFS caused significant and long-lasting harm to my client and their family. Often, DHS and DCFS will take the approach of presuming the accusation is true, and then impose restrictions that can tear a family apart, all before there has been any real investigation. Those restrictions can take the form of a parent being forced to leave their own home, and if the parent refuses, having their child taken from the home by DHS or DCFS. Indeed, with the stated goal of “protecting the children,” I have seen cases where DHS and DCFS are the only real source of harm to children, and but for those agencies becoming involved and taking heavy-handed action, there would have been no harm whatsoever.
Often, when there is improper or heavy-handed action taken by DCFS or DHS, those agencies attempt to justify their actions by misconstruing statements that were made by a parent or other child caregiver. I have seen cases where it is likely that my client made a statement to DHS or DCFS before they retained an attorney, only to have the agency’s employees honestly misunderstand what the client was saying, and use that misunderstood statement as a basis to take legal action against my client. I have also seen cases where I firmly believe that an effort was made by an agency employee to purposefully misrepresent my client’s statements. In other cases, I have seen such a lack of investigation on the part of DHS and DCFS workers that their actions can hardly be considered reasonable.
As an example, DHS once accused a client of making, selling, and using methamphetamine in the client’s home, with the client’s multiple children present. The client in that case had no involvement with methamphetamine, as was plainly obvious. More obvious was the fact that the client had zero children! That case ended quite quickly, yet the DHS worker had persisted in her demand to meet with my client and conduct a home visit despite being told by the client that the client had no children (and no meth lab, of course). That begs the question whether the DHS worker at issue in that case was qualified to do their job, when they are unable to even determine that the client had no children.
For those and other reasons, the best thing do when facing DHS or DCFS involvement is to seek counsel and avoid making any statements or taking any actions on your own. The fact that the allegation is totally without merit doesn’t change that fact. Sadly, many people who are ever so innocent have seen their lives turned upside down by child protective services, and it is often the initial statements made by those innocent people that turn out to be used against them in the weeks and months that follow.