In Colorado, the Department of Human Services (DHS) fills the same role as the more well-known Child Protective Services (CPS), helping protect children from individuals or situations where they are not adequately protected.
Receiving a notice from the DHS that you or a family member are under investigation from the DHS or are involved in a DHS-related case can be nerve-wracking. Today, we're exploring the steps you should take if the DHS reaches out to you about an investigation.
What Do I Do If CO DHS Contacts Me?
So what do you do when you or one of your family members gets a call from the Department of Human Services?
The first thing to do is to educate yourself on what can happen in these types of cases. What will happen to the kids? Within a DHS case, the child(ren) in question is placed back with the parent(s), a relative or family friend, or an unconnected third party through foster care or adoption.
Depending on the circumstances, these cases can result in a parent's parental rights being terminated. The other thing to know is that almost any biological-related family member can ask to be made a party to the case to have the child placed with them. Once a case opens, there are numerous people involved from many different agencies. These cases are likely to involve multiple interactions with the Juvenile Court in a Dependency and Neglect case.
These cases can last anywhere from 6 to 12 months and sometimes longer. You are also likely to encounter multiple dealings with the Department of Human Services (DHS), a lawyer who is appointed to represent the best interests of the child - called a guardian ad litem or GAL- as well as many other 3rd party actors and agencies whose interests may or may not align with yours and what you believe is in the child's best interest.
A dependency and neglect case should be taken seriously. A parent did not cause the abuse or neglect that triggered the case opening does not mean a Colorado court cannot still find the child neglected concerning that parent. A parent's innocence of the abuse and/or neglect that caused the case to open also does not prevent the Court from potentially terminating parental rights if the case doesn't go well. Getting legal help in these situations is important.
How Do Dependency Cases Work in Colorado
Typically, dependency cases in Colorado follow a pattern:
- The DHS receives a report of child abuse or neglect. As soon as the DHS receives a report, DHS officials investigate the report. If DHS investigators have reason to believe the report of abuse or neglect is true, they can remove the child in question from their home while the dependency case proceeds. When this happens, the child is often placed either with family members or in a foster care home, depending on the circumstances of the case and what the DHS considers safer for the child. Otherwise, the child may remain in their home with their family.
- At this stage, the juvenile court will initiate the dependency case, filing a Petition in Dependency and Neglect. The court may then hold a Temporary Protective Custody hearing to determine where the child should be placed while the dependency case is ongoing.
- Dependency cases typically occur over several stages. DHS officials will work with parents to try and develop a plan that enables them to re-house their child. After a dispositional hearing is held by the court for the parents, the court may either adopt a treatment plan intended to help parents regain custody of their child or find that no appropriate treatment plan can be devised.
- In the former case, the court will allow the parents time to adopt the treatment plan, after which a permanency planning and review hearing will occur. If the parents adhere to the treatment plan and the court believes the child is safe, it will dismiss the case, and the child can return to living with their parents.
- If the court decides no treatment plan can be devised or the parents are failing to adhere to the treatment plan, it will move forward with terminating their parental rights. Depending on how the case moves forward, the court could give one of the child's relatives parental rights or terminate the parent's rights and move the child into the foster care system.
- It is worth noting that, even in cases where their parental rights are terminated, parents will have the opportunity to appeal the case if they believe the law was incorrectly applied during the case.
The Importance of Representation in Dependency Cases
Under certain circumstances, parents may qualify for a free court-appointed attorney. However, family members who may want to intervene cannot qualify for Court-appointed counsel. Suppose you find yourself in this situation, where you are not the parent, but you would like to be considered for placement of the child for the child's safety. In that case, it is essential to know your legal rights because nearly every other party in the courtroom will have an attorney looking out for their rights.
If you are the parent in a dependency case, the juvenile court coordinator will have you fill out a JDF 208 form when your case opens. Depending on your response to the form and the information you provide to the court, you may qualify for RPC, alleviating some of the financial burden of appointing legal counsel for yourself.
Navigating through a dependency and neglect case requires thorough familiarity with the Colorado Children's Code and how Colorado courts apply it. It also requires a comprehensive understanding of and familiarity with the strategies, tactics, and motives of the countless parties involved in these cases. These cases necessitate making potentially life-changing decisions, and you must retain a lawyer that will help you overcome these challenging legal obstacles with compassion.
You should find an experienced attorney who you can trust and protect your best interests and the child(ren) 's in question. Whether you are a parent trying to get your child returned to your care or a third party (e.g., grandparent, aunt/uncle, cousin, or even close family friend) who believes that you are best suited to be the long term/permanent placement option for the child, the attorneys at Knies, Helland & McPherson are here to partner with you for a successful resolution to your case.