I’ve had a lot of calls in the last two weeks about Arizona Department of Child Safety’s Dependency Registry (also called the Central Registry). The Department of Child Safety is required to maintain a registry of people who have substantiated reports of reports of abuse or neglect. This registry is used to prevent people from working with children, getting fingerprint clearance cards, obtaining security clearances, and gaining professional licenses, among other things.
Sadly, the substantiation of a report does not require significant legal oversight. In fact, placement on a registry does not require a judge or even a legally trained professional. Instead, a DCS worker decides that a person is going to be placed on the registry based upon “probable cause standard,” but this standard is a low legal standard applied by a person with no to little legal training.
The registry is a well-intentioned idea that just doesn’t do what you think it would do. You might envision the registry as designed to keep violent offenders away from children. While those violent offenders might end up on the registry, a large amount of the people placed on the registry are not those who would traditionally be seen as abusing children. I have personally seen parents who smoked marijuana in the first trimester before they knew they were pregnant, parents who are victims of domestic violence, parents who attempted suicide all end up on the list and lumped into the same category as child molesters.
A person can contest being placed on the registry. Recently, I have helped parents wishing to clear their names from this detrimental label. They can write a letter about why they shouldn’t be placed on the registry and also ask for a review in front of an administrative law judge who can prevent them from being placed on the registry. However, parents must learn they are being placed on the registry before they will know they need to take any corrective action.
This is problematic because a person learns they are being placed on the registry by a letter delivered to them through uncertified mail. There is no court hearing required and a person will be placed on the registry if they don’t respond to the certified mail. This is problematic in cases where someone is no longer at the address DCS has on file for example a person who is a domestic violence survivor who has gone to a shelter to escape her abuser or a parent who has left his/her spouse who harmed the children.
I wrote all this because I was reviewing an article about a man who actually went to court when his children were removed and won them back.The judge sent his children home saying that the DCS allegations were not credible. However the Department of Child Safety decided they didn’t care what the judge said. DCS was going to substantiate the claim of abuse or neglect and place him on the registry. You can read that article here.
I do not know how this resolved for this man. I couldn’t find a follow up article. However, I should say it is very possible to stop the Arizona Department of Child Safety from placing a person on the Dependency Registry. This person seems to have done everything possible to do so by not only responding quickly, but also by having a lawyer experienced in child welfare matters acting on his behalf.