How Do I Fight DCS in Arizona?

two little girls walking along a trail holding hands

Parents have the right to choose how to raise their children, and children have the right to be with their parents. Regardless, DCS can decide to remove a child from their home if allegations of abuse or neglect have been made. Navigating the DCS investigation, removal, and/or dependency process can be traumatic for both children and parents across Arizona. As a parent, you have the right to fight DCS and take action to keep your family intact.

What Is DCS?

DCS, or the Arizona Department of Child Safety, is the organization responsible for protecting children in the state. While they are not law enforcement, they are granted the power to take custody of children if they have evidence that parents are not willing or capable to care for their kids. If there are allegations of abuse or neglect, DCS will get involved and conduct an investigation to assess the child’s safety and wellbeing.

What Happens in a DCS Investigation?

The DCS will typically initiate an investigation when they receive a report of abuse or neglect. A report can come from nearly any source, including teachers, medical professionals, family members, or law enforcement, for example. After receiving a report, DCS will evaluate whether there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation.

Can DCS Interview My Child?

The first step of a DCS investigation usually involves conducting interviews with the child, both parents, and any other individual who may have knowledge of the alleged misconduct. Chapter 2 of the DCS Program Policy states that interviews with the child should be held in a safe and neutral environment to ensure the child is not coached to respond in a certain manner.

Arizona Revised Statute § 8-471(E)(3) states that DCS must obtain written consent from the parent or guardian before conducting an interview with the child, unless the child initiated contact with DCS or if abuse or abandonment has been alleged. The statute does not reference neglect, which means that DCS must obtain consent before interviewing a child in neglect investigations.

How Long Does a DCS Investigation Take?

According to Chapter 3 of the DCS Program Policy, efforts should be made to complete an investigation within 60 days. If 60 or more days have passed since the beginning of your DCS investigation, you and your attorney may begin exploring your legal options to fight DCS.

What Happens Once the Investigation Is Complete?

Upon the completion of the investigation, DCS will mail a letter that either concludes that the claims are unsubstantiated or confirms that there is strong evidence indicating that the allegations are true (substantiated finding). If the report is unsubstantiated, DCS has found that there is not enough evidence to conclude that the allegations are true and DCS will likely end its involvement with your family.

If the report was substantiated, it means that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of abuse or neglect. In this case, interventions may be taken to protect the child from immediate harm. DCS will then decide which follow-up actions are needed to keep the child safe and healthy moving forward, which may include further supervision or counseling/support services.

Can DCS Remove My Child From My Home?

Many parents are frightened that DCS will remove their child from the home. While this is typically a last resort – reserved for situations where the parent cannot adequately care for the child – it is certainly a possibility. In Arizona, DCS can remove a child from the home if there is a credible, serious risk of harm or an imminent threat of abuse, sexual misconduct, or neglect. In these situations, DCS has 72 hours to file a petition with the court and outline why it is necessary for the agency to take custody of the child. If the judge signs the petition, DCS will gain temporary custody of the child.

How Do I Fight DCS in Arizona?

If your child was removed from your home, it is essential that you understand your rights and move forward proactively to fight DCS and regain custody of your child. You have the opportunity to appeal the decision, file a complaint to argue that the investigation was flawed, and fight back against their allegations against you and your family.

File a Complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman

The Arizona Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating the administrative actions of state agencies like DCS. If you are not satisfied with the way DCS is handling your case, you can file a complaint with this office to review your situation and determine the appropriate response to help resolve the issue. If the Ombudsman determines that you have not been treated fairly, they will work with you and your attorney to reach a solution.

Appeal the DCS Decision

In some cases, you may appeal the DCS decision and raise a concern through the DCS Program Administrator (Chapter 7 of the DCS Program Policy). If you appeal a decision, the Protective Services Review Team (PSRT) will evaluate all of the information and determine if the DCS decision is valid. If PSRT disagrees with the DCS decision, you will receive notification that the allegation is unsubstantiated.

If the team agrees with the decision they will schedule a hearing, during which a judge will review all relevant evidence and issue a determination. Appeals must be filed within 15 calendar days of the decision or court order, so it is important to act quickly and exercise your appeal rights as soon as possible.

Contact an Experienced DCS Defense Lawyer at the Law Office of Justin Fernstrom PLLC

If DCS has removed your children from your home – or is threatening to do so – an experienced Phoenix DCS defense attorney from the Law Office of Justin Fernstrom PLLC can help. We have over a decade of experience advocating for parents and relatives of children caught in the jaws of DCS. Our firm has successfully handled some of the toughest cases involving child dependency and parental rights, and we understand how to fight DCS and keep children with their families. To learn more, consider scheduling a consultation with our team at (602) 560-7494 today.