In a perfect world, no one would file reports of child abuse unless they were really true. But it happens all the time—in fact, most of the reports that go to the Department of Human Services are unfounded. Who would file a false report? Sadly, many false reports come out of schools where personnel make snap judgments about parents, or are annoyed over a special education or similar dispute. Some online trolls do it just for fun. Other reports might come from irate in-laws, ex-spouses, or other personal enemies.
How will DHS react? DHS will investigate if the allegations call for it. Hopefully, DHS will determine the allegations are unfounded. Many fine caseworkers are trustworthy and do an excellent job. But there are also caseworkers who go too far, do things that are not permitted by law, and may overreact. Because of this, you must be careful.
What should you do if a DHS caseworker shows up at your door? Try to stay calm and polite. Find out what the allegations were. Before answering any questions, immediately call your attorney. Either make an appointment to discuss the matter with your attorney present, or have the attorney on speaker phone while you talk with the caseworker.
The Fourth Amendment applies to caseworkers, so you do not have to let them in the house unless they have applied for a court order. Politely refuse to let them in the house. If the allegations involve the condition of the house, they may have a right to investigate. Make an appointment for them to inspect the house with your attorney present. If the condition of the house is not involved, there will be no reason to show it, and you and your attorney can say so.
After you have talked with your attorney and caseworker, you will likely agree to let the caseworker see the child. The caseworker has a right to see and speak with the child under Colorado law. The caseworker likely has a right to speak with the child without you present. If the allegations are serious, you may want to hire an attorney with training in child advocacy specifically to represent the child separately from you, to be there during the interview.
If there are allegations of abuse that may have left marks under clothes, DHS state-wide in Colorado takes the position that it can examine any part of your child’s body. DHS caseworkers may ask the child to remove his or her clothes, or ask you to remove the child’s clothes. Usually, they will then take photographs. This is true even if there are no marks. DHS has many photographs of private areas of children with “no marks.” They take a picture of the area of the body related to the allegation, and of the child’s face to match with that picture.
There are several reasons not to allow this. The first reason is that children may experience strip-searches as comparable to sexual abuse. A second reason is that it desensitizes children to removing their clothing for adult strangers, which is dangerous for the child. A third reason is that you may take the position that the photographs are insufficiently secured and put your child at risk for being a victim of child pornography. DHS personnel in El Paso County, Colorado have admitted these photographs are carried around on cell phones for weeks, DHS has no safeguards to prevent them from being uploaded to the Internet, and printed photograph of children are stored in an unsecured way in a DHS file room that many people can access.
If there is any discussion of taking photographs of private areas of your child, consult with your attorney immediately. A good alternative is to volunteer to have the child examined by a medical doctor. The caseworker can also ask for an order for a medical examination.
You may also find out that, because of an abuse allegation, your child was interviewed, searched, and photographed at school without your consent. Sometimes caseworkers will tell you afterwards, and sometimes they will not. If this has happened, you should consult with your attorney on how to get your records from DHS and determine whether and to what extent your child’s constitutional rights were violate
DHS plays an important role in our society, and we need caseworkers to do their job. But as a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure that they perform their job well with respect to your child, and keep within constitutional limits.