The Department of Human Services (DHS) in Iowa, and its counterpart the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Illinois, are responsible for investigating child abuse accusations. Sadly, many of their reports inaccurately assign blame for child abuse, or claim that abuse exists when there has not been any abuse at all.
As an attorney who has represented many clients in connection with child abuse accusations in Iowa and Illinois, I have seen many situations where a client was incorrectly accused of child abuse. Sometimes that accusation was the result of another parent making up accusations to gain an advantage in a custody or divorce case. In other situations, a daycare provider misinterpreted statements made by a child and the accusation snowballed from there. Or, there are cases where a third party may observe an event or injury, incorrectly state that it is child abuse, and an investigation ensues based on that claim. Still other false reports start with a child making an accusation that is untrue, and then DHS or DCFS fails to properly separate the truth from fiction. There are also some situations where a child was being abused, but the abuser is inaccurately identified by the DCFS or DHS worker handling the investigation.
A related issue arises within the investigation processes employed by DHS in Iowa and DCFS in Illinois, and centers upon the manner in which the truth is ascertained. DHS and DCFS workers often base their determination of the truthfulness of an accusation in large part upon how “credible” the alleged victim or other reporter seems to them. That is an incredibly subjective standard, and tends to lead to inaccurate outcomes. Since many of the times the interview with the alleged victim or other reporter is not recorded or is recorded in such low quality that facial expressions are difficult to read, there is generally no evidence of this supposed credibility preserved. Moreover, even when a person appears to be credible, that does not mean that what they are saying is factually true. It is entirely possible for a person to believe something that is not actually true, and to credibly repeat that statement.
Adding to the problem, DHS and DCFS workers are often under-qualified to make the sort of determinations that they make in their reports. As an example, I have had cases where an expert witness utilized by my firm (who possessed an M.D., decades of experience, dozens of published papers, etc.) found that that investigation procedure employed was so deficient as to render the conclusion meaningless. Yet the DHS and DCFS workers in those cases had previously touted the (non-existent) rigorousness of their investigation. Many times, even when confronted with the logical holes in their investigation, I have seen DHS workers in Iowa and DCFS workers in Illinois stubbornly stick to their erroneous conclusions.
Perhaps most troubling, I know of situations where a DHS or DCFS worker has claimed that a client said or did something that the client was adamant they never said or did. Often, these alleged conversations or actions conveniently occurred at a time when only the DHS or DCFS worker and the client were present, such that there were no other witnesses. Since I have had multiple clients report such untruthful statements by DHS and DCFS workers, and since I have seen inaccurate matters in reports that I could personally say were not reflections of events, I know that there are times where DHS or DCFS workers are dishonest in their reports. Indeed, in both Illinois and Iowa there have been cases where DHS and DCFS workers have been criminally prosecuted for misconduct in connection with their jobs.
False DHS reports can cause a person serious problems in every aspect of their life. Child abuse accusations can cause child custody problems as well as criminal charges. They can also result in juvenile court proceedings, difficulties with employment, etc. In many cases, the effect of a DHS/DCFS child abuse accusation is more serious than the criminal charges that a person might face based upon the same accusations.
The good news for those facing a DCFS or DHS child abuse accusation is that the legal system has the proper tools to help resolve an inaccurate report. The DCFS appeal process in Illinois and the DHS appeal process in Iowa can and do work. I have seen the administrative law judges properly hear the evidence presented at such hearings, and overturn child abuse findings that should never have been made. Indeed, it is that appeal process that is vital to keep DHS and DCFS in check. I certainly advise everyone who is the subject of an inaccurate child abuse report or assessment to contact an attorney and avail themselves of the right to appeal.