Arizona Department of Child Safety

Have you received a letter from the Department of Child Safety (“DCS”) stating that they intend to substantiate a finding of abuse or neglect and place the finding on the Central Registry? You may have only days to act. The road ahead can be complex and an entry of the finding on the Central Registry could impact your future. You should consult with a Phoenix family attorney to consider your options.

Why am I Receiving a Letter From the Department of Child Safety (DCS)?

DCS investigates allegations of child abuse and child neglect. If, at the end of their investigation, they think that there is abuse or neglect, DCS is required to take action. They could file a dependency action, work informally with the parent(s), and/or notify the parent(s) of an intent to substantiate the report and place the findings in the central registry. This article discusses only this latter option.

You are receiving the letter because DCS intends to substantiate the report and place the finding, with other information, on the Central Registry. The parent(s) have a right to a hearing. If DCS has also filed a dependency action in the county superior court juvenile division, or otherwise subject to a court proceeding where the allegations of child abuse or neglect are at issue, then the parent(s) will have their right to a hearing in that court proceeding.

If there is no pending action, DCS will inform the parent of a right to an administrative hearing. If your letter states that you must appeal, then DCS is notifying you of your right to that hearing.

What is the Central Registry?

The Central Registry is a database of information of substantiated reports of child abuse or neglect. It is used for background checks for limited purposes defined by statute. The list is quite long, but the background check is primarily for when a person might be a potential foster parent, potential adoptive parent, or otherwise hold a position of influence or care for a child or vulnerable adult. You can check the statute for the list.

Do I Need To Respond To the DCS Letter?

It depends. Generally, if the letter states that you must respond and you wish to have a hearing, then yes, you must respond. Additionally, DCS sometimes makes mistakes about whether you are a party to a pending action. While the letter may state that you are already a party to a hearing, your rights may be impacted if DCS is wrong. Either way, you should ask an attorney about your options.

If I Respond to my DCS Letter, What Do I Say?

Again, it depends. There are a myriad of possible responses that are dependent upon your situation. You should consult with an attorney to discuss your case and explore your options.

If you want to appeal for an administrative hearing, you must respond to DCS within 20 days from the date DCS mailed the letter to you. At minimum, you need to fill out and return the appeal form provided with the letter. Additionally, you may want to provide a letter explaining the circumstance of your case that demonstrate that your child was not abused or neglected.

What Happens After I Respond To the DCS Letter?

After you respond to the letter, there is generally a review, sometimes a hearing, and, in the worst case scenario, an entry of a substantiated report into the Central Registry. In the best case scenario, DCS will not substantiate the report.

Review

The DCS Protective Services Review Team (“PSRT”) will review your appeal form and any information you provide to evaluate whether they still intend to substantiate the finding of abuse or neglect. The PSRT is required to complete this review within 60 days.

Hearing

At the end of the review, if DCS still intends to substantiate the report, then it must (1) request a hearing with the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings and (2) provide you notice of an administrative hearing. DCS will not request the hearing if certain exceptions apply, such as that there is already a pending court action.

After the administrative hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) will make a decision. That decision is not final. It is reviewed by the DCS Director, who may accept, reject, or modify the ALJ’s decision. The DCS Director’s action may be appealed to the county superior court.

Entry into the Central Registry

There are a couple reasons why a substantiated report of abuse or neglect will be entered into the Central Registry. Those reasons include:

  • Failure to timely request a hearing.
  • Failure to appear at the administrative hearing.
  • The ALJ finds probable cause to support that the alleged perpetrator committed child abuse or neglect.
  • A court or ALJ in a separate proceeding finds probable cause to support that the alleged perpetrator committed child abuse or neglect.

This list is not exhaustive. There are other, but rarer reasons why the report may be entered into the Central Registry. There are some exceptions to these circumstances as well.

Will DCS tell me if they intend to not substantiate the report?

Yes. There are also circumstances when DCS will not enter the report into the Central Registry. Parents generally consider this situation the winning situation. Parent(s) can “win” if DCS chooses to withdraw its intent to substantiate the report after its review or after the hearing. There are other ways to “win” as well, but those situations occur with less frequency.

If DCS decides, or is required, to unsubstantiate the report, DCS is required to send the parent(s) a letter stating so.

Conclusion

Efforts to obtain a letter unsubstantiating a report of abuse or neglect can be complex and daunting. You should consult with an attorney experienced in this area to help protect yourself from an unwarranted entry into the Central Registry.

Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. You should consult with an attorney to understand your rights. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship.