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If I am involved in a DCS investigation, what do I need to know?

In a recent report evaluating Indiana’s Department of Child Services (sometimes also referred to as Child Protective Services or CPS), it was noted that “as of 2017, Indiana’s rate of children in out-of-home care was about 13 for every 1,000 in the state and is over twice the national average.”  Similarly, according to the report, Indiana’s screen-in rate in 2016 was 66 percent compared to the national average of 58 percent.  The report concluded in part, “Indiana has an exceptionally high rate of court involvement in child welfare cases.  While this adds oversight to child welfare cases, it also results in higher staff caseloads, more staff time in court and higher DCS costs.”  The full DCS report can be found at: http://media.ibj.com/Lawyer/websites/opinions/index.php?pdf=2018/june/CWGFinal.pdf.

What does that mean for Hoosier families and parents?  DCS in Indiana has historically been more significantly involved in the lives of Hoosier families than similar departments in other states.  It is critically important for families and parents to understand that they have certain rights, including constitutional rights, if they find themselves involved with DCS informally through an investigation or formally through formal litigation known as a CHINS action, which stands for “Child In Need of Services.”

When would I have the occasion to be involved with DCS or a DCS investigation?  As DCS acknowledges, child abuse covers a wide variety of issues and areas.  At a fundamental level, child abuse is an action or omission by a parent, guardian, or other individual that is seriously endangering child's physical or mental health. This can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, exposing children to illegal drugs, allowing child to act dangerously or inappropriately toward other children, or allowing a child to commit a criminal act.  https://faqs.in.gov/hc/en-us/articles/115005223068-What-is-child-abuse-and-neglect-.

Necessarily because of the broad definition of what constitutes child abuse and the broad scope of their responsibilities toward children and their families in Indiana, DCS conducts thousands of investigations and has thousands of pending CHINS actions throughout the State and in every county.  These investigations can include allegations of inappropriate use of corporal punish to fatalities.  In many instances a DCS investigation can be performed in conjunction with local law enforcement.  A family case manager responsible for investigating a child abuse allegation is not precluding from involving law enforcement either directly or indirectly.    

DCS can often be the first governmental agency involved in a situation because it has certain statutory obligations to respond to allegations of child abuse within a certain period of time.  In fact, that investigation can often occur within hours or days of a report of child abuse depending on the seriousness of the allegation.  Nonetheless, the fact that DCS has obligations and a responsibility to timely investigation does not mean than the individuals involved in their investigation are not entitled to their constitutional rights including the right to a lawyer and the right not to make a statement. 

As Indiana moves forward and addresses DCS and its policies and procedures, there will likely be changes, perhaps significant changes, to the Department and how it conducts its business.  Indeed, the recent report notes that moving forward, “DCS may want to consider whether its broad, unqualified definition of neglect may be bringing more children into care than is necessary.”  Nonetheless, DCS will continue to investigate Hoosier families and will continue to engage some of those families in litigation through a CHINS action.  Those investigations and legal matters can no doubt occur at unexpected and often inconvenient times.  An individual knowing what his or her constitutional rights are and having legal counsel involved in that process early on can be vital to protecting that individual and his or her family.

Looking for an experienced Indiana DCS attorney or an attorney experienced in addressing civil or criminal investigations involving parents and children?  Contact the attorneys at Keffer Barnhart LLP today if you have questions or believe your parental, constitutional, or criminal rights have been violated.  We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized case.  Act now and contact us today at 1-800-NOT-GUILTY or (317) 857-0160.