If you answer a knock at your door one day to find a child protection worker on the other side of your door you will likely be worried about the reason for the visit. Even if you know you have not abused or neglected your children it can still be terrifying to think someone has accused you of doing so. In addition, the idea of a stranger coming into your home, delving into your private life, and interviewing your children, may not sound appeasing to you. The question then becomes, “ Does a child protection worker have the right to enter my home to conduct an investigation? ”
An investigation by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, or DCS, may be initiated for a number of reasons, most of which begin with a report of abuse or neglect. The report may come from a family member, doctor, neighbor, teacher, ex-spouse, or even an anonymous caller. With few exceptions, all allegations of abuse or neglect must be investigated by DCS. Therefore, even if the allegation is completely unfounded, a DCS worker will need to follow-up on it. The policy is a good one as it increases the odds of identifying real cases of child abuse and neglect; however, it may not seem that way if you are the target of an investigation.
The right of a caseworker to enter your home to conduct an investigation is something that has been heavily litigated given the Fourth Amendment implications. The Fourth Amendment requires the police to have a valid search warrant based on probable cause and signed by a judge before a search of any home can be conducted unless one of the few exceptions to the warrant requirement apply. The same basic principles apply when it is a caseworkers asking to come in to conduct an investigation because courts typically consider it a “search.” If a child removed from the home as a result of the search courts usually consider that a “seizure.” As well.
The most commonly used exception is “consent.” If you give a caseworker your consent to enter your home a warrant is not needed. Always consult with your attorney before giving anyone consent to enter your home. The other common exceptions to the warrant requirement include a search incident to arrest, plain view, and exigent circumstances, though they are less likely to apply.
If you are facing an investigation by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, consult with the experienced Tennessee family law attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.