By: Brad TenBrook
Something that has confounded me since day one of practicing law in Phoenix, and all throughout the state of Arizona, is that DCS case managers frequently tell parents they are investigating for child abuse or neglect that they do not need a lawyer. Sure, the early stages of their investigation may not involve the Juvenile Court or the DCS lawyer (Arizona Attorney General’s Office), but it does involve the parents’ constitutionally protected, fundamental right to parent their children.
There are many stages to a DCS investigation. From the child abuse hotline report, to the initial contact with the DCS worker, to a meeting involving “all interested parties”, to possibly the Juvenile Court making decisions about where a child should be placed – all of the stages involve a parent (or two) and a child. One of the early stages is called a Team Decision Making meeting or “TDM”. TDMs involve state workers, supervisors, and possibly law enforcement. But too frequently we hear the parents have been told they “don’t need a lawyer” or if they bring their lawyer they will not hold the TDM for the family.
Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place – DCS telling a parent they want to meet regarding abuse or neglect allegations (which may result in the child being removed from the parents’ home), but if the parent brings a lawyer DCS will just make their decision without the parents’ input.
Not bringing a lawyer to the TDM is the wrong decision. Many times at a TDM, DCS has already investigated and gathered a lot of damning evidence on parents. The TDM is being held to confront the parents on the evidence DCS has gathered. Anything a parent says in the TDM can and will be included in a report to the Juvenile Court, if a Dependency is filed.
To show how important parents’ fundamental rights are, free attorneys are appointed if a Dependency is filed and a parent cannot afford an attorney (DCS takes legal custody of a child). Free lawyers are NOT provided in Family Court, where custodial decisions are generally made between two parents. However, waiting until a Dependency is filed may be too late. Retaining a private attorney to help navigate the initial stages of a DCS investigation can be a prudent decision well worth the cost.
Lawyers play a vital role throughout multiple stages of cases, despite the opposition form other parties. The world of law is a tough world to navigate and with the right help from the right attorney, the process can become an easier one to understand.
Brad TenBrook is a former Assistant Attorney General who represented DCS. He now focuses on helping families navigate the DCS world of investigations and dependencies at Woodnick Law.