A social worker has left a card on your door — or even worse went to your child’s school and spoken to them without your consent. Some people feel confident like they have nothing to hide. Others are scared out of their minds. Before making any statement to the social worker, I strongly recommend calling and speaking to a private dependency attorney for the reasons outlined below.
Your Actions Matter
Your actions and statements can be the difference between your child ending up in the foster care system.
- You are entitled to have an attorney present with you when you initially interview with DCFS
- Call the social worker and request that an interview be set up between you, your attorney, and the social worker’s attorney
Having an attorney present is good to help you:
- Stay focused
- Not incriminate yourself
- Appear to cooperate
Social Worker Integrity
Hiring an attorney and setting up an appointment can also stall an investigation. Sometimes buying more time is important like if you would fail a drug test. It often keeps the social worker more honest about the statements that you make.
Social workers do not record or allow their interviews to be recorded pursuant to their policies. Every time that you meet with a social worker, the social worker takes your statement and writes it up in a report.
- When an attorney is present for the interview:
- The exact quote is written on the report
- When an attorney is not present for the DCFS interview:
- The statement is drafted in a summary and replete with misrepresentations, which the court heavily relies upon and doesn’t give you the time to defend against
I have seen DCFS referrals last up to three-six months before closing. So just because you do not hear back from DCFS for a month does not mean you are in the clear. I will lay out the biggest and most avoidable mistakes families make when being investigated by DCFS/CPS for domestic violence.
Domestic Violence Referrals
This author understands that people are human and have altercations that sometimes turn physical. A verbal or one-time physical altercation between parents happens. Someone drinks too much or lets their emotions get the best of them at a time when infidelities are discovered. When a parent or neighbor calls the police because of this altercation, it triggers a DCFS referral. Parents get into these altercations and want to remain in a relationship. It is natural. However, it is utterly repulsive to DCFS for parents to remain in the same home when being investigated for a domestic violence referral. This is the biggest trap for families involved in the court system.
A Trap in the Court System
To DCFS a one-time physical altercation creates a big liability to their $1.8 billion-dollar budget and duty to protect children. From DCFS’ prospective, they have found out about a domestic violence incident where the children were present and the parents are still together. If another fight happens and they do not step in to protect the kids and by the off chance that the kids were subsequently hurt, it could lead to DCFS being sued.
Therefore, what is truly best for your child’s emotional wellbeing is balanced by DCFS by what would happen to the Los Angeles County budget if the social worker does not act, the kids somehow get hurt, and then DCFS gets sued. This is DCFS’ toxic chain that make Los Angeles County the largest child welfare institution in arguably the world.
Not everyone is a true victim of domestic violence. Too often I have cases where the female says she lied because she wanted to get the man in trouble for whatever reason. Or the man says that he was attacked by the female and had to defend himself, but the man was the one arrested. Whatever the circumstances, domestic violence victims do exist.
In no way does this blog intend to minimize the true domestic violence victims. The reality is that the appearance or smell of domestic violence is swallowing family’s whole into this number one DCFS trap.
Best Advice in Domestic Violence Referrals
If the other parent was arrested and then released for domestic violence, the best advice is to:
- Have them not come back and stay in the home
When the social worker makes initial contact and the arrested parent is in the home, it is a big red flag. This will lead to the child likely being removed from both parents.
- Make sure the other parent is verified living someplace else
- Their possessions are boxed up and removed by the time the social worker arrives
Before or immediately after the social worker arrives to interview you, get a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) in family law. DCFS files petitions in dependency court. This is a special court that has exclusive jurisdiction over child at risk of abuse or neglect. The dependency court trumps the family law court. Keep in mind the court systems are separate. Social workers do not write reports in family law court and loosely monitor and understand what happens there and how. Your TRO will be loosely monitored by DCFS.
I heard a judge grumble in Norwalk last week that all DCFS does is pawn their cases onto him. He was upset because a person under oath stated that they only wanted the restraining order so DCFS would not take their kids and that the social worker advised them to go to family court and get a restraining order.
Social workers investigate more domestic violence calls than anything else. If when DCFS makes first contact it is extremely important to have a TRO in place. This will diffuse a lot of DCFS’ anxiety about your ability to protect you child and the county’s liability.
A lot of people get upset with me when I tell them to get a TRO during a DCFS investigation. “But I do not want to leave him”, they say, “I want our family to stay together!” I have seen these same people lose their children a few days later.
- A TRO is temporary in nature
- The restrained party is entitled to a one-time continuance and can waive time in court for a trial
- The TRO can be in place for up to three months in some circumstances, which can allow enough time for the DCFS investigation to end
- By that time, the social worker will have moved onto another problem
In Family Law Court, you can easily dismiss the TRO. The judge will ask if you want to go forward and you can decline to do so. The TRO protects DCFS and your family. Use it against them to keep your family together during their investigation. If everyone is on the same page, this a TRO is an effective tool in preventing a formal case being filed by the social workers and risking your child entering foster care.
Please be advised that restraining order applications are signed under penalty of perjury. Do not lie or misrepresent any facts on a court document.
Rest assured that the social worker will ask where were the kids during the altercation. Even if the kids were asleep, it is best to say that even though they were asleep, you regret that they were in the home. Do not minimize this fact. If the social worker writes up a report, it will make you appear like you do not accept responsibility.
Parents that do not take responsibility are more likely to have their children taken away.
To speak with an attorney about your case, call The Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro today: (310) 462-6726.