Johnson City Juvenile Court judge says new DCS policy will endanger kids

Becky Campbell • Nov 1, 2013 at 9:57 PM

A new Department of Children’s Services policy will put children in abusive homes in more danger because caseworkers will no longer be able to remove them without a court hearing, local officials said Thursday.

The new policy came as a result of two U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinions that say caseworkers have to follow the Constitution regarding a person’s right against searches and seizures without a warrant.

At least one local judge said the new policy will put children in danger.

“What’s happening is the Department of Children’s Services, as I understand it, are trying to write new policies so they are in compliance with what the Sixth Circuit (ruled),” Johnson City Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Green said.

“Shortly after that opinion came out, I discussed (it) with (the) local Department of Children’s Services and said I would sign emergency orders 24 hours a day. In an emergency situation, if the case worker would swear to the facts that the child was in danger, I would sign an emergency removal order and the child would be placed in temporary custody,” Green said.

That’s actually what Green was doing until a couple of weeks ago when DCS said caseworkers would stop removing children until they filed a petition in Juvenile Court and had a hearing.

District Attorney General Tony Clark said DCS has not contacted his office about the policy change and he learned about it from a news article out of Nashville.

Clark said if there are no criminal charges concerning a child’s treatment, his office usually doesn’t even know a child is removed from a home.

But he said the policy will put his attorneys in a bad situation when they’re contacted by a police officer about a child they believe should be removed from a home.

“What about meth labs?” he said.

Doug Diamond, DCS’s chief legal counsel, said he believes the only way caseworkers can remove a child from a home without a formal hearing is if the situation meets a narrow definition of “exigent circumstances,” which means there is a risk of harm that is “serious, immediate, physical or specific.”

Green said she wants to see a policy similar to what caseworkers were allowed to do prior to the federal court ruling.

“The procedure they had before worked very well. If it’s such a bad situation that a child was removed, the Department of Children’s Services had to file a petition within 72 hours. Parents were getting hearings within days. Children were protected during that time,” she said.

Diamond said DCS could change its policy, but won’t make a decision until the end of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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