Understanding The Child Protection Investigation Process

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab


About The Child Protection Investigation Process

In Louisiana, the job of looking after kids who might be abused or neglected falls to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). When someone says a child might be in danger by giving a report, the DCFS steps in to check out what's going on. They look into the situation and decide what needs to be done. The exact steps they take and how long things take can change from case to case, depending on what's happening and how much danger the child might be in.

To report suspected child abuse or neglect, or to report juvenile sex trafficking, call 1-855-4LA-KIDS (1-855-452-5437) toll-free 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

What You Need To Know

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) gets involved in a child protection investigation when they receive a report about possible child abuse or neglect. 

Anyone can make a report if they think a child is being abused or neglected. This report might come from a teacher, a doctor, a neighbor, or anyone else who's concerned. Some people, like teachers and doctors, must by law report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect.

The DCFS reviews the report to see if the information suggests a child might be in danger. If the report shows that there could be a problem the DCFS starts an investigation. 

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) will start an investigation based on the details given in the report they receive. When the DCFS gets a report, they don't just jump into an investigation right away. The DCFS reads the report to look for specific things, like if the child might be in danger and if the person who might be abusing or neglecting the child is someone who's supposed to be taking care of them, like a parent or guardian. The DCFS will only start an investigation when the report suggests that a child might be at risk. 

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) get involved in child welfare cases based on reports they receive. Here's generally how you might know if DCFS is starting an investigation. 

A caseworker or investigator from the DCFS will likely contact you. This could be through a phone call, a letter, or a visit to your home. This is usually the first indication that an investigation has been started. However, they may not always notify you before they start investigating.

As part of their investigation, the DCFS caseworker may want to interview you, your child, and any other individuals who may have information about the situation.

DCFS may also need to interview or assess your child, sometimes at their school or another neutral location.

The DCFS might request information such as medical records, school records, or other documentation that could aid their investigation.

When the DCFS investigates allegations of child abuse or neglect and finds evidence supporting these allegations, they are mandated to take appropriate actions to protect the child. Depending on the severity of the situation, various steps might be undertaken.

1. Providing Services to the Family: If the investigation concludes that the family situation can be improved and the child can be kept safe through intervention services, the DCFS may offer a range of services. These can include parenting classes, counseling, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and other social services.

2. Establishing a Safety Plan: A safety plan is developed when a child can remain at home but certain changes must be made to ensure their safety. This might include the accused abuser moving out temporarily, regular home visits by a caseworker, restrictions on certain activities, or any other measures that are designed to protect the child.

3. Removing the Child from the Home: In severe cases where immediate danger is present, or if other interventions have failed, the child may be removed from the home to protect their safety. This is typically a last resort when it's believed that no other option will adequately ensure the child's safety. The child may be placed into foster care, with a relative, or in a group home, depending on the circumstances. This process involves the courts when the child is removed from the home.

The Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), is responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect. The court typically becomes involved in a DCFS investigation when there is a serious concern about a child's safety or well-being that may necessitate legal intervention.

This can include, but is not limited to, the following situations:

  1. Emergency Removal: When DCFS determines that a child is in immediate danger, the agency can initiate an emergency removal of the child from the home. In these cases, a court hearing usually takes place within a few days to determine whether the child should remain in protective custody or be returned to the home.
  2. Adjudication Hearing: If the parents or guardians dispute the allegations, an adjudication hearing will be scheduled. This is a trial where the court will determine whether the allegations of abuse or neglect are true.
  3. Disposition Hearing: If the court determines that a child has been abused or neglected, a disposition hearing is held. At this hearing, the court will make decisions about the child's future, such as custody arrangements, services for the child and family, and visitation rights for parents.
  4. Review Hearings: After the disposition hearing, the court will hold periodic review hearings to monitor the child's situation and the parents' progress in meeting the court's conditions.

Learn more about the child in need of care process, involving the court by visiting the resource, Understanding Child In Need of Care (CINC) Cases.

Last Review and Update: Jul 11, 2023
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