Alton B. Johnson, Attorney at Law - "Serving All of Northeast Georgia"


WHEN GEORGIA DFCS COMES KNOCKING

A Clients Guide of what NOT to do

Prepared by Alton B. Johnson

Attorney at Law

 

1.       Do not engage. Often when a DFCS worker pays you a visit, they are there to inquire about an unsubstantiated report from an “anonymous source”. The purpose of their visit is to attempt to substantiate or not substantiate the allegation. Typically, they will take one of two approaches when they come out to see you. The first approach is to present themselves as caring members of an agency that is there to “help” you with your family issues. They often attempt to befriend the parent or guardian and ask you to disclose all of your dirty laundry. They may talk of programs that exist for families such as yours and will often appear to be an understanding “ear” to help with your problems and family issues. Remember, although they may appear to be “friendly” to you, they are there to do a job and anything you disclose WILL be used in a court proceeding if that day comes.  The other approach is the “fast and firm investigator” who is there to hold you to account for allegations of abuse or neglect. This approach often involves hidden threats of a criminal action possibly being taken against you, placing you in the position of feeling like you can cooperate or “else”. Often people feel that if they cooperate, DFCS will understand that the allegations are not true. The bottom line is simply this: Do not get taken in by either investigatory technique. Typically, if DFCS has substantiated grounds to remove your child(ren), they will do so immediately without the need to talk to you. The important thing to remember is that YOU are the number one source of information which DFCS uses in a Court case. The bottom line: Be firm but polite and tell DFCS that you are not going to discuss your family problems or issues with them until you can speak with an attorney.

        

2.       Do not agree to take a drug test. What many fail to realize is that requests by DFCS to take a drug test are just that: requests. Unless there is a court order, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE A DRUG TEST. Do not agree to voluntarily take a drug test. Many feel that they will be absolved of allegations of drug use if they agree to a drug urine or hair follicle test. That is a risky approach. Many over the counter drugs and prescription medications will test positive for cannabis or methamphetamine. The science is not as accurate and reliable as many believe. The tests do not distinguish between legal medications which will test positive and illegal narcotics which will also test positive. DO NOT TAKE THE RISK VOLUNTARILY. Evidence of methamphetamine and/or cocaine use are presumptive signs of abuse and/or neglect. A positive test result for these drugs could be enough to justify removal of your child and place you in a position of having to show “clear” screens for a period of six months. Do not let your family’s wellbeing rest upon a test that may, or may not, be accurate and reliable. NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES AGREE TO A HAIR FOLLICLE TEST,

 

3.       Do not argue with DFCS. Parents who argue and use inappropriate language in their discussions with social workers paint themselves in a corner as possibly violent and irrational. Social workers are often viewed in our society as “protectors of children”. They are considered reliable and neutral parties who have no interest in giving false testimony. In many cases this is true. In some cases, it is not. If you offend or threaten a social worker, you can bet the entire department, and ultimately, the court will view you as an irrational “hot head” who is likely to physically abuse a child or spouse. Again, be polite but firm. Do not engage until you have spoken with an attorney who specializes in family dependency cases.                  

 

4.       Be careful and wary of “community providers” which DFCS may refer you to. In any situation in which personal information is being shared with a counselor or mental health provider, remember to always ask the question: Who is paying these people? If at all possible, retain your own providers for assessments and evaluations. DO NOT SIGN HIPPA WAIVERS (HIPPA is a federal law that protects your medical information and prevents providers from sharing your information without consent). Often the HIPPA waiver is presented in a “stack” of paperwork that you “have” to sign. Often without the time to read the documents and seldom with an attorney present. Do not voluntarily submit yourself to any evaluations.      

 

5.       If your child is taken do not try to talk or cooperate with DFCS in an attempt to convince them to return the child. Loss of custody of a child is one of the most heart rendering and emotionally challenging event a parent or custodian can face. Very often people are so emotionally overwhelmed that are willing to do anything to get their child back- up to and including bearing their soul and airing their dirty laundry in the baseless hope that DFCS will return the child. IF your child is taken by DFCS, IMMEDIATELY seek the assistance of a qualified and experienced attorney who specializes in dependency matters. YOU CANNOT CONVINCE DFCS TO CHANGE THEIR MIND! 

 

6.       Court: IF your child is taken by DFCS, you will be going to court on very short notice, typically within 72 hours (Preliminary Protective Hearing or PPH). It is critical that you obtain counsel as soon as possible. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will provide you with an attorney, typically this appointment occurs on the day of court and places both you and your attorney at a grave disadvantage. DFCS and their attorney are fully prepared to go forward with their case against you (especially if you failed to follow the advice listed above). You and your lawyer are not! At best, you will be compelled to request a continuance or waive the hearing altogether. The decision to waive the initial hearing is a critical one, if you followed the above recommendations, there may a chance at success. The initial hearing tends to be a free for all in which all evidence is admissible against you: statements made by witnesses, opinions of social workers, and all allegations are presented to the court with little or no substantiation. The evidentiary threshold is very low. The only issue at this hearing is whether or not it was more likely than not that the allegations occurred which would justify a reasonable person (judge) to issue an order to remove a child. Hearsay is admissible in this hearing. Also, the odds are pretty high that the same judge who hears everything bad that can be said about you (without actual proof) will also be the same judge who will hear the entire case.

 

7.       DRESS FOR COURT! Do not come to court wearing a tee shirt and blue jeans. Remember, you are being accused of mistreating or failing to properly care for your child. Do not fit the stereotype of a inferior parent/custodian. Goodwill and other thrift stores sell dress shirts and slacks for as little as $2.00 to $5.00. Dresses for women are also very affordable. Remember, often assessments of people are made based upon their initial appearance. Often these first impressions are difficult to overcome. Do not make your case more difficult for your lawyer by wearing a “beer” tee shirt. This is not the time to make political statements or show the world you live a carefree alternate lifestyle. Leave the body piercings off. Wear long sleeve shirts to hide your tattoos if possible. Do not fit the preconceived notion of an abusive parent. IF you are a man, wear a tie if possible. You want to present yourself as a respectable member of the community.

 

8.       BEHAVE IN COURT! Do not giggle, laugh, joke, or otherwise engage in conduct that could be interpreted as disrespectful to the court. This is not the time to practice new comedy material or express your disgust for the “system”.  You may very well hear untruths and exaggerations made about you. Do not roll your eyes, do not make verbal outbursts. NEVER CUSS IN COURT. You are being judged as a parent or guardian. You are in the spotlight. You are being observed. Be the type of person in which a judge would have a hard time believing is unreliable, uncaring, or lacking as a parent. Do not give your lawyer an impossible task of helping you by behaving like an idiot in court. 

 

9.       When testifying, remember you have the right to take the protections of the Fifth amendment of the constitution. If inquiries are made of illegal activities, you do not have to answer. The court may draw inferences from your refusal to answer such questions, but that is better than out and out admissions of such activities on the record.                       

 

10.   If a court order is entered, follow it! Often the terms are not so difficult that they cannot be achieved. Parenting classes, obtaining stable housing, getting a job, anger management classes, and other services are very easy to accomplish with a minimum modicum of self-discipline. Remember, the bottom line is getting your child out of foster care. IF you are a good parent, you should be willing to do whatever is necessary to have your child returned to you. DO NOT USE DRUGS OF ANY TYPE if there is a court ordered case plan!  

 

 

   In summary, this is a very basic guide for parents and custodians who are faced with allegations of abuse or neglect. The most important thing a parent or guardian can do is obtain legal counsel at the outset. If a social worker is paying you a visit, an allegation has already been made. They do not have to disclose their sources or even tell you why they are there. Often the visit ends well with no loss of custody of your child, sometimes it does not. Is it worth risking the loss of your child to foster care? Although an attorney may cost money, ask yourself what your child and your reputation in the community is worth to you?    

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Alton B. Johnson

 

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