The Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS) in Georgia can be contacted by anyone to make a report if they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected. The perpetrator of child abuse could be a teacher or a day care provider or any other family member, though most of the times, it is the parents who are targeted. It is very important to understand that though a DFCS case need not necessarily be criminal, resulting in police involvement, it can also be one. A criminal charge being filed against you can result in you losing custody of your kids and termination of your parental rights or even stop you from pursuing a certain career. It is therefore very important that you speak with an attorney as soon as it is possible.
If DFCS does not implicate any criminal charges, you may be allowed to have custody of your children with a certain plan put into action. In a few cases, they may also allow you to put your child under someone else’s care and keep the matter out of court. Each and every DFCS case is different based on the circumstances, facts and the investigation findings. Though the law permits any individual to file a child abuse report, there are certain people mandated by law to do the same. These are the childcare providers, doctors, teachers, social workers, law enforcement officers etc.
The law also protects the identity of the person filing the report and hence parents will not be told about who filed the same. At times, false reports of this kind are filed during child custody cases by one of the parents. But it is illegal to file a false complaint of this nature and you can be sent to jail and fined for doing so. The DFCS decides on the merit of a call received about any child neglect or abuse and then proceed to investigate the same. The person filing the report is also interviewed and then the person(s) being accused of child abuse as well as the other family members and anyone concerned who can provide more inputs on the case. After this investigation, the DFCS decides on whether the police needs to be involved in the case or not.
After due investigation by the agent, if it is proved that a child has indeed been abused or neglected, then a report is filed into something called as a Central Registry. This is also referred to as “indicated” report. You are eligible to appeal a report once it becomes “indicated”. This appeal does not follow the normal court case proceedings and is instead an administrative hearing presided by a judge of administrative law. You get 60 days to ask for a hearing. There will be a pre-hearing conference where the concerned judge will discuss on findings and evidence and then decide who all should be called as witnesses. The judge also decides on whether the child should testify. Once the actual hearing is concluded, the judge makes a recommendation to the Director, DFCS. The final decision on the case is taken by the Director and you have the rights to appeal it in court.
It is good to know that though you may be allowed to review investigation results during an appeal, the identity of the person who filed the report is still not revealed to you. If the investigation report happens to be “unfounded” instead of “indicated”, then the DFCS may destroy all records of the case. The DFCS defense is not something that many attorneys take up as an area of practice. Also, many people investigated by DFCS cannot afford attorneys. But it is true that having an attorney can hugely influence the case proceedings and the directions it takes. The state of Georgia boasts of few excellent attorneys who are experienced with DFCS rules and regulations of the state. Even if you find that you cannot afford one, it may still be well worth it to talk to one to understand your options.
In the state of Georgia it is the Georgia Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS) that is responsible for investigating reports of child neglect and abuse. When a call is received on their hotline (1-800-25-ABUSE), they determine whether the person calling actually has reason to believe if a child under the age of 18 has been neglected or abused as per the factors laid down by the state. If they feel that it is indeed so, then more information is collected and a child abuse or neglect report is constituted. This is followed by an investigation.
Understanding a DFCS investigation
The case is investigated by a designated person at the DFCS. Mostly the person assigned will be from the Division of Child Protection (DCP for short) under DFCS. The person will make necessary investigation by talking to concerned people like:
- The person who filed the report
- The person who is being accused of the child abuse or neglect
- Any other family members
- Any person(s) who are able to provide any helpful information about the case
The people who should be talked to are also listed out by the DFCS. If required, the investigation is conducted jointly along with the police. The investigation is conducted to decide whether the children were indeed abused or neglected or are at risk of the same.
It is important to know that your life can change and be affected in more ways than one if you are the person being investigated for possible child neglect or abuse.
Some of the notable effects it can have on your life are:
- There are chances of criminal charges due to a DFCS call followed by a criminal investigation;
- You may lose custody of your children and your parental rights following a DFCS investigation; or
- It is possible that DFCS may allow the children to continue in your home with a plan to be followed even if they have reason to suspect that child abuse or neglect has happened;
- If you agree to place the child under the guardianship of a known family or friend, then the DFCS is entitled to keep the case away from the Juvenile Court as well;
In case you are already in the midst of child custody proceedings with a former spouse, then a DFCS call can affect you badly. In such a case, the judge may want to know the result of the DFCS investigation and why they investigated you in the first place.
With due evidence, you may be placed under an “indicated” report for child abuse or neglect by the DFCS. This becomes a permanent record in the Central Registry of the DFCS. Based on the severity of the occurrence, the report may be kept as part of the Central Registry for a period of 5 years to 50 years. An “indicated” report can also mean that you may not be considered for certain jobs.
However, in case the investigation by DFCS decides that credible evidence is not found in any case of child abuse or neglect, then the case is designated as “unfounded”. All records related to the case and investigations are destroyed by the DFCS in such cases, mostly within a timeframe of 36 months. However the person being investigated can request DFCS for the records to be kept if so desired. This will come in handy in case the person wants to prove harassment based on unfounded reports and investigations by the DFCS.
People against whom an “indicated” report is filed are also eligible for appeal the findings. In such cases, it is best to contact us for a due consultation to counter the DFCS investigation.
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If you are able to, please share your own experience on our site so that others can benefit from what you are going through.
~ The DFCS Help Team