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The Social Worker’s Investigation – What to do?

In many highly litigious family law cases involving custody you may inevitably be visited by a Department of Children and Family Services social worker who has the task of investigating your family for some sort of abuse or neglect. Of course there does not need to be a family law matter for a DCFS case to open up.  An accident and a trip to the hospital could prompt a visit from DCFS or a nosy neighbor. Any number of things could prompt the investigation and it can be a very scary thing to be visited by a social worker.

When an emergency report is made to the department, it is mandatory that a social worker who is trained in emergency response assess the potential danger to any child in the residence. This person must decide if there is a risk to the child and if the child needs to be detained from the parent. Additionally the social worker must conduct an immediate in-person investigation of a report when

  • The situation poses immediate danger to a child;
  • A law enforcement agency makes a report which states that the child is at immediate danger; or
  • The social worker believes that the child is at immediate risk of abuse or neglect.

The social worker responding on DCFS’s behalf must consider providing services to the parents to maintain the child safely in the home before any removal can be made. When there is suspected abuse or neglect there must be significant reasons to detain from a parent. Under the Welfare and Institutions Code the following circumstances alone are not enough to allow removal:

  • Spanking, with no additional evidence of physical injury or trauma;
  • Lack of shelter for a parent/parents;
  • The parent’s unwillingness to provide mental health treatment based on a legitimate religious belief ;
  • Cultural and religious child-rearing practices and beliefs unless they pose a direct and serious physical or emotional risk to the child;
  • Treatment of a child by spiritual or religious means.

No matter what it is prudent for you to talk to an experienced dependency attorney when you are approached by DCFS. My best recommendation is to never speak to a social worker without an attorney present. You wouldn’t speak to the police alone so why would you talk to a social worker? Despite social workers appearing to be on your side and appearing to be nice they are definitely looking to make a case against you and what you say could significantly affect your case if a petition is filed against you.

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