The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is responsible for investigating domestic matters and making recommendations to the courts. If DCFS believes there is abuse or other malfeasance going on in the home, it can arrange to remove children from their homes and place them in state custody or foster care. Also, DCFS can place a person's identity into a database to indicate that he has been involved in domestic abuse matters, making it difficult for this individual to find employment. DCFS appeals are possible without the assistance of an attorney.
Learn the importance of deadlines for filing an appeal. If DCFS has made a finding against an individual, he has 60 days from the date of the finding to initiate an appeal. If he misses this deadline, he waives his right to appeal forever; and the finding will remain on his record for up to 20 years. If you are filing an appeal immediately after a finding, ensure that you have received a notice of appeal, which should arrive within 14 days from the time of filing. If you are the appellant (person appealing) and you do not receive this notice of appeal, contact DCFS immediately.
Mail or fax a written request for review. Each state will have a form available to request review of a DCFS finding, which should be forwarded to the administrative sector of the agency. The form should include all identifying information about the appellant, including current contact information. It should also identify the case number of the original filing and the appellant's request for a review. If the judge or administration cannot reach the appellant, the appeal will be dismissed; so, be sure to include your current contact information.
Attend the pretrial conference. Once the application for review has been received and filed, the judge will send the appellant a notice of the date and time for a pretrial conference. This is a conference in which the appellant, his attorney if he has one, a DCFS attorney and an administrative law judge will confer in a telephone call to discuss issues relevant to the trial. Each side must reveal its witness list; decide whether a child under the age of 14 years will testify at the hearing; schedule the date of the hearing; and discuss the documents to be exchanged, as well as any stipulations and other motions. If you do not participate in this phone call, the judge will deny your appeal. If you miss the call for one reason or another, you have 14 days to petition to reinstate your appeal.
Prepare for the hearing by speaking with witnesses and organizing the case. DCFS is under an obligation to provide appellants with copies of the investigative file. Review all documents and evidence contained in this file. Also, any documents DCFS intends to proffer during the hearing must be shared with the appellant, so that he can review and prepare for the case.
Attend the review hearing. Arrive promptly and in professional dress. Each side will present evidence in the form of documents and testimony to the administrative law judge. Children may testify and DCFS will present its findings from the original investigation leading to the negative finding against the appellant. At the conclusion of the hearing, the administrative law judge will make a recommendation to DCFS, who is responsible for making the ultimate decision. The judge must administer his recommendation within 90 days from the time the request for appeal was made.
Stephanie Reid has been writing professionally since 2007, with work published in the Virginia Bar Association's "Family Law Quarterly" and the "Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy." She received her Juris Doctor from Regent University and her Bachelor of Arts in French and child development from Florida State University. Reid is admitted to practice law in Delaware and Maryland.