How to Deal with the Process of the Allegation
Your attitude about allegations begins BEFORE an allegation happens to you.
You might begin with expecting an allegation – by a community person, by your children-in-care, by your case manager, etc. The attitude by the system is often that it is better to apologize for a false accusation than to ignore a child in need of help – this gives parents fewer rights than the accuser. It is best to check it out.
Children are not born knowing right from wrong. Teens may not be taking into consideration the consequences of their actions. They just want to solve the immediate problem. The absolute statement that “children do not lie about these things” is incorrect. Today’s children are highly sexualized by what they see and know things we can’t imagine at a very young age. When they repeat items, it doesn’t mean that it is always true.
All allegations must be investigated. Your relationship with the agency will not be your protection. Don’t allow yourself to get loose with your words, by saying something like, “I could kill that kid,” when sharing your frustrations. The circumstances of each allegation are different and the way each allegation is investigated may differ from county to county, from worker to worker, and from time to time.
Although most allegations are difficult, an allegation of sexual abuse of a child-in-care is the hardest allegation to deal with emotionally.
Who will be Involved in the Investigation?
As a foster parent, you will have a third-party investigation. This means that someone other than your caseworker or anyone involved with you and the child-in-care will do the work of the investigation. It might be a special unit in the Public Children Services Agency, a neighboring Children Services unit or the police/sheriff. An investigation must follow set rules. Some individuals are not permitted to talk with you or your family about the allegation while the investigation is ongoing. This lack of information and support can leave families feeling isolated, discouraged, and vulnerable.
What happens during an Investigation?
When your family is the subject of an investigation, you have the right to know the concern. It may take several days before someone official can let you know. You will not be told who raised the issue.
The reality is that your family will feel very vulnerable any time you are the subject of an investigation. You have no authority over the access investigators have to the children in your care. All children-in-care (as well as your permanent children) may be interviewed. You will not be allowed to be present for the interviews. You can, however, ask that an adult supporter for the children-in-care be present. This person would not be allowed to share any information with you about the interview.
Your neighbors, school officials, or anyone else related to the allegation may be interviewed.
Will children be moved during the Investigation?
Maybe. Depending upon the allegation, the children-in-care may need to be moved to a respite home while the investigation is in progress. In all cases, a Safety Plan for the children-in-care will need to be put in place. While you may request visitation with any children (foster or pre- adoptive) removed from your home, this decision about visitation will be at the discretion of the agency. Agencies may allow supervised visits to ensure that the child does not feel abandoned during the investigation.
How long will the Investigation last?
An investigation will last anywhere from 1 to 60 days (This includes time to write up the report). Because of the case load carried by children services agencies, the time generally runs longer than is helpful for family cohesion.
How am I notified of the outcome?
You will receive a letter with the findings of the investigation. At the end of an investigation, the allegation will be determined to be:
(1) Substantiated – meaning that investigators found enough evidence to support the allegation;
(2) Indicated – meaning that investigators have not found enough evidence to substantiate an allegation, but suspect that the child may have been abused or neglected; or
(3) Unsubstantiated – meaning they did not find evidence of the allegation.
How do I appeal a finding in an Allegation?
If you disagree with the finding of an allegation you may file an appeal through the Children Services Appeal Process. This process will be outlined in your letter of finding. This appeal ends with the administration of the local Children Services Agency. A reversal in the finding may be made if one of three things happened:
(1) The report disposition was made in error.
(2) The appellant did not engage in conduct constituting child abuse or neglect as defined in sections 2151.03 and 2151.031 of the Ohio Revised Code.
(3) The report disposition is not supported by the totality of the information presented by the appellant or the PCSA or contained in the case record.
Under the ODJFS (Ohio Dept. of Job & Family Services) rules, you are not entitled to a hearing at the state level unless the agency is working to remove your license.
Should I hire an Attorney if I am under Investigation?
Getting an attorney involved in the early stages of an investigation will slow down the process of the investigation. Once an attorney is involved, Children Services will also bring their legal department into the process and things get delayed. If children are removed, this extension of time further delays the family getting back to normal.
If your finding comes back as Indicated or Substantiated and you disagree with the finding and want to appeal the process, it might be beneficial to seek out a lawyer who is skilled in Family Law and knows the processes of the Child Welfare System.
Since your time frame to appeal is generally limited, you may want to seek out a recommendation for a lawyer with these skills during the investigation but not use them unless necessary.
One More Thing!
Unfortunately, there is one other concern for foster parents in an allegation. The foster care agency may be required to have a separate interview with you to see if any of the many rules involved with foster care were violated in relation to the allegation. This may feel like another attack after having completed the investigation with the county. If you are able to treat it like a learning event, it will go down easier.
The agency will look at any rules in question with you and may write up a “Corrective Action Plan” for you to complete. This may involve a specific training that they ask you to complete or a specific set of actions that they want you to put into your home routine. The state rule that requires this process with the foster care agency is found here: Corrective Action Plan.
The Ohio Department of Job & Family Services also writes about the challenges of being a foster parent, and dealing with allegations is among those challenges. Read more here.
Another resource can be found here: NACAC Allegation Survival Strategies – NACAC Allegation Survival