Defending Against Dependency and Neglect Actions
In April 2015, five of Raymond and Amelia Schwab’s children were removed from their home based on allegations of abuse made by a family member.1 Although the allegations were deemed “unsubstantiated” in July 2015, the children were not returned to their home. 2 This is perhaps a parent’s worst nightmare – a false allegation made to Child Protective Services and the removal of their children from the home. Frequently, these types of reports are made by family members who disagree with the parent’s lifestyle choices or religious beliefs. However, just because a report is made does not mean that an investigation will be opened, or that the children will be removed from the home.
In Colorado, the Department of Human Services in each county is responsible for investigating allegations of abuse. When a report is received, the caseworker determines whether to intervene, and the appropriate response time (immediately, by the end of the third calendar day, or within five business days). If the investigation determines that abuse and/or neglect did not occur, the case is closed. If the caseworker determines that abuse and/or neglect occurred, the case proceeds to a planning stage, which may also include the filing of criminal charges or dependency and neglect proceedings. The circumstances under which a child may be taken into temporary custody in Colorado are narrow. For a law enforcement officer to take a child into custody, the child must be:
(1) abandoned; (2) lost; (3) the child’s welfare is seriously endangered or the child is a serious danger to others; (4) the child is a runaway; or (5) an arrest warrant has been issued for the child’s parent for kidnapping the child or violating custody orders. C.R.S. § 19-3-401(1). Of course, the question of whether the child is “seriously endangered” is subject to interpretation, and is the most likely reason to be cited if children are removed for abuse allegations. When a child is taken into temporary custody, the parents must be immediately notified, and are entitled to a “prompt” hearing to determine whether the children must be placed outside the home. C.R.S. § 19-3-402. If the children cannot be returned to the home, the county will make an effort to reach other relatives to take care of the children. If you are contacted by the Department of Human Services related to a report of abuse, you should contact an attorney immediately, before answering any questions or giving an interview. Additionally, before a report is filed, you should consider setting up an action plan and designating individuals who can take temporary custody of your children if they are removed from your home.