When a DHS (in Iowa) or DCFS (in Illinois) become involved in a person’s life due to child abuse or neglect allegations, they often do so by making an unannounced visit and requesting that a person speak with them. How that conversation is handled can have a significant impact upon the rest of the case.
Any involvement with the child protective services agencies (DHS in Iowa and DCFS in Illinois) has the potential to turn a person’s life upside down. DHS and DCFS involvement can result in a range of legal issues that can persist for years, to include removal of a person’s children from their home. As such, it is wise for any person approached by DHS or DCFS to keep the following in mind, and seek an attorney at once before speaking to the worker.
Parents are at an emotional disadvantage when DHS and DCFS arrive
A visit from Illinois DCFS or Iowa DHS – expected or unexpected – is an emotional thing for parents. That is especially true when there is an implicit or explicit threat that a person’s children will be removed from their home. The stress from that situation puts a parent at a distinct emotional disadvantage, as few people are at their best under such a stressful situation. DHS and DCFS workers know this, and that is why they often request that a parent meet with them on short notice (or with no notice at all). Indeed, I have had clients over the years tell me how they were so shocked and taken aback by the appearance of the worker that they found themselves barely able to form a complete sentence, despite their education and normally excellent speaking abilities.
DHS and DCFS are not on your side
When a DHS or DCFS worker is investigating an allegation of child abuse or neglect, a parent is wise to remember that the worker is not on the parent’s side. DCFS workers in Illinois and DHS workers in Iowa are tasked with finding child abuse – that is why they draw a paycheck. There is an old saying goes something like “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That saying holds true for DHS/DCFS workers. Over the years I have seen DHS and DCFS workers accuse clients of child abuse or neglect in cases where I believe a reasonable objective person could never have reached that conclusion. Many of those clients had such a finding overturned upon appeal, which further goes to show that the workers are not always reasonable.
What you say (and didn’t say) can and will be used against you
When a person speaks to DHS or DCFS, the workers will make use of those words in their reports. The goal, obviously, is to get a person to make statements that can be used to show that a child abuse or neglect accusation is true. Such questioning can take the form of direct question about alleged actions taken by a person, what the person observed, etc. There are also generally questions meant to box a person in, such as establishing where people were, when they came home, and so forth. Those questions in particular can be problematic, especially when they are asked in an unclear manner. DHS and DCFS workers know how to ask questions in a manner that will produce a response they can use in their report, and very few parents are in a position to detect and prevent that issue from arising. Additionally, there are situations where a DHS or DCFS worker incorrectly reports that a person made a statement, when that person actually made no such statement. I have seen such cases involving multiple clients in both Illinois and Iowa, and it is my considered opinion as an attorney that some DHS and DCFS workers fabricate statements to put in their reports.
DHS/DCFS matters have a ripple effect through the legal system
A person who has DHS or DCFS involvement can expect it to impact other legal matters. Criminal charges, child custody, a juvenile court case, and other legal actions can either arise or be affected by the existence of a DHS report in Iowa or DCFS report in Illinois.