Authority of the Department of Child and Family Services
DCFS has the authority to address specific categories of conduct against minors, including abuse and neglect. Utah Code 62A-4a-103. and 62A-4a-105(1)(f). DCFS also has the authority to investigate reports of abuse or neglect to determine whether they are “supported, unsupported, or without merit.” Utah Code 62A-4a-409(3).
DCFS acts on this authority by visiting the homes of people who have been reported to DCFS. Most reports come from family members. DCFS will arrive at a home and ask to enter the home to investigate. A individual who is contacted by DCFS has no obligation to let DCFS in their home or to answer any questions. If DCFS is permitted to investigate the home they will make a determination based on their investigation whether the alleged abuse or neglect is supported.
Challenging a Supported Finding
If DCFS makes a finding of support, the parents or guardians of the children who have been accused of the abuse or neglect can challenge the finding through an informal adjudicative proceeding where evidence is presented. The parents must file a written request for a review by filling out a “Request for Administrative Hearing” and returning it to the DCFS Hearing Tracker within 30 days of receiving the notice of agency action.
The Informal Adjudicative Hearing
At the informal adjudicative hearing there will be an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) presiding who has will decide whether to uphold the supported finding. DCFS will be represented by the state attorney general’s office. It is the state’s burden to show by a preponderance of evidence that the abuse or neglect occurred. This is done by calling witnesses and introducing evidence. The parents have the opportunity to cross-examine the state’s evidence and present their own. The ALJ will then decide the issue based on all the evidence presented. If the ALJ upholds the supported finding there is still one more avenue for relief for the parents.
Petition for Judicial Review
The parents can challenge an ALJ’s decision by filing a petition for judicial review in the juvenile court in the county where the parents reside. The parents can then present their defense and show why the ALJ was wrong. A juvenile court judge has the power to review the case de novo, which means, brand new as though nothing happened before. Witnesses will be placed under oath and will take the stand.
Many people who are innocent of abuse or neglect are nonetheless found to have done those things by DCFS. Such individuals should defend their reputation and take advantage of every possible remedy the law provides. We can help. Call our Utah family law attorneys at 801.413.1753 for a free consultation about your DCFS case.