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Child Protection:
DHHS Child and Family Services

One of the most stressful experiences parents encounter is a telephone call from DHHS child protection services. DHHS involvement often starts with a report from an educator, mental health professional, doctor, or even the other parent.

Imagine this scenario: A DHHS caseworker calls and tells you there has been a report made concerning one of your children. They ask to meet with you and for permission to speak with your child. Maybe you learn after the fact your child was already interviewed at school. You’re asked to disclose personal information, often on multiple subjects. The caseworker might request that you sign releases to speak with the school, doctors, mental health professionals, or others. Such questioning feels deeply intrusive. The intrusion is real and sometimes unwarranted. It can feel intimidating and even threatening.

DHHS is there to help, but lack of funding and overworked caseworkers sometimes lead to cookie-cutter approaches and ultimately, outcomes that don’t best meet children’s needs. This can push families into troubling situations, leaving families to pick up the pieces. Each family is unique and DHHS needs to approach them that way. Sometimes they just get it wrong.

I would advise any parent who receives a call or visit from child protective services to immediately contact an attorney prior to speaking further with them or allowing a caseworker to interview your child.

Most child protection investigations end without court involvement and without any findings of wrongdoing. However, DHHS might “substantiate” one or more of the caregivers for abuse or neglect. The next step after substantiation is not always court. Often DHHS makes a substantiation finding and closes the case. But having a substantiation finding on record can have a negative impact on a person’s employment or even on their ability to coach a youth sport or volunteer with children. A person has 30 days from the date of receiving their substantiation letter to appeal. It is of the utmost importance to appeal any substantiation finding immediately.

When the issues that bring in child protection involvement are significant, there can be crossover into family and guardianship matters. For instance, if a parent or grandparent needs to protect a child from another parent or family member, it might mean they need to modify an existing divorce or parental rights order. If parents are unable to safely care for a child at a particular time, it might mean entering into a guardianship so that child protection services can close their investigation. The interplay between these three areas of family law—child protection, domestic relations, and adoption—can create difficulties and nuance that are most effectively handled by a seasoned attorney such as Attorney Matthew Govan who practices in all three areas.

Matthew has many years of experience working closely with child protection services in the Portland and Biddeford locations and Portland Office of the Attorney General. Better outcomes can be achieved with legal representation at that first telephone call. Understanding how parents are best able to work with and sometimes against child protection services from the beginning leads to better outcomes.

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