DCS can get involved in a lot of domestic disputes when there are allegations of child abuse or neglect. DCS, as a government agency, has a very important role in investigating any reports of abuse or neglect of a child, taking action, and protecting the child. Some professionals, such as teachers or doctors are required to report suspicions of abuse or neglect to DCS.1 Other times, reports come in from parents, other family members, friends of the family, or other adults.
The DCS hotline, to report abuse or neglect of a child, receives more than 500 calls per day statewide2. DCS carries a heavy weight and burden to fully investigate all reports and protect children. Generally, when DCS investigates a report of abuse or neglect of a child, they must conclude whether the report is “substantiated” (true), or “unsubstantiated” (could not confirm definitively if it was true).
Oftentimes, in domestic matters, parents may feel that DCS’s determination or conclusion is incorrect, or makes misstatements of fact, portraying a parent, or other person, in a bad light, as an abuser, or otherwise. When you, or someone you love, is on the receiving end of an unfavorable DCS report, or even if you are unfairly accused and DCS does not substantiate the claim, the affects can be devastating. What is one to do? In domestic cases, the question often arises “Can I sue DCS?”
Generally, the answer is no, but there are some exceptions. The reason that DCS cannot usually be sued is because they are a government entity and have immunity from lawsuits.3 However, in a recently decided case by the Indiana Supreme Court (which was deeply divided), the court ruled that in the specific case before them, DCS did not escape liability from their actions under the umbrella protection of government immunity. In F.D., G.D., and T.D. b/n/f J.D. and M.D.; and J.D. and M.D., individually v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, Evansville Police Dept., and Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office, the Supreme Court decided that in the narrow set of facts and circumstances of that case, gave the parents a private right of action under the Tort Claim Act. In that case DCS learned of sexual abuse of a child, which was not the subject victim of the original report and investigation, but did not disclose their knowledge of same to the parents of the child newly discovered to have been abused. The parents argued that had they known, they could have provided treatment and protective from the child.
We hope that you have found this information to be helpful. This is not intended to be legal advice. If you have questions or concerns about your specific case involving a DCS investigation or report, in Indiana, CIYOU & DIXON, P.C. frequently handles domestic and child related matters, and can help evaluate your specific case. This blog post was written by Attorney, Lori B. Schmeltzer.