DCS retreats from new policy requiring a hearing before a child is removed from a home

Facing criticism from child advocates and judges, the Department of Children’s Services has retreated from a new policy of requiring a hearing in all cases where a child is removed from a home, reports The Tennessean. A revised policy was adopted Friday.

It’s a reversal that comes weeks after the agency’s legal staff told caseworkers that they no longer had the authority to remove children from homes without going to court — except in rare cases in which a child is in imminent danger of bodily harm.

The change comes a day after The Tennessean reported that juvenile judges and legal advocates for children feared the policy would leave some children in dangerous homes while awaiting a hearing, a process that can take days or longer in some rural parts of Tennessee.

Davidson County Juvenile Judge Sophia Crawford said she is pleased the agency has put into place the new policy, which allows caseworkers to seek temporary emergency orders, known as “ex parte” orders, from judges to remove children while awaiting an in-person court hearing.

“If you don’t have that avenue of getting an ex parte order, then in certain circumstances, a delay could result in severe or irreparable harm for the child, or the child could be removed from jurisdiction,” Crawford said.

The new policy was effective Friday morning, according to an emailed statement sent late Friday from DCS spokesman Rob Johnson. Johnson did not respond to a request to provide a copy of the new written policy.

A summary he did provide said DCS investigators will now be guided by three “key features” in determining whether to remove a child from a home:

• Removing a child in “exigent circumstances,” in which a threat of harm is immediate, will not require a court order.

• Removing a child from a home where there is not immediate or serious danger will require caseworkers to petition for an in-person hearing in front of a judge, who will decide whether a child should be legally removed from the home.

• But “if the risk of serious bodily harm is not immediate but likely to occur before a hearing can be held,” caseworkers can request a temporary, emergency ruling from a judge absent a hearing.