This is a true story. A young Hispanic mother here in Tucson took her 1 year old feverish daughter to the emergency room. Doctors examined the baby, but could not find the problem. The perplexed doctors told the mother to agree to a meningitis test, warning her that the test could cause paralyzation. The mother said no to the test after considering her daughter’s symptoms and the dangers of the test. The doctors left the room, but returned later, threatening to call DCS to report child neglect if the mother did not do the test.
Terrified, the mother fretted about what to do. Something in her gut told her to not do the test. But she did not want to have her baby taken from her. The mother took a deep breath before bravely telling the doctors no to the test, that they could call DCS if they wanted.
The doctors left the mother to sit in the exam room for over an hour, waiting for DCS. She second-guessed her own judgement many times but could not change her mind.
DCS never arrived. Finally, doctors allowed the shaken mother to leave with her baby. The baby recovered beautifully. DCS never came to the mother’s home, but she was very upset.
Why did the doctors threaten to call DCS?
Doctors are mandatory reporters. They have to report neglectful denial of medical care under A.R.S. §13-3620. Neglect includes unwillingness of a parent to provide a child with medical care that causes an unreasonable risk of harm to the child’s health under A.R.S. §8-201.
It is hard to know for sure why the doctors thought the mother was behaving neglectfully.
But doctor can lose his or her medical license and be charged with a felony if she/he fails to report observed neglect. Did the doctors call DCS? The mother never knew for sure.
What happens after DCS is called?
When DCS is called, information is gathered and a determination is made about what to do. A field investigator can be sent out to the child immediately to begin an investigation. Or, DCS can decide to not take any action. In short, it is up to the individuals handling the call to make that judgement.
What happens if DCS comes to interview you or your children?
If possible, you should call an experienced and qualified attorney to seek immediate advice before DCS arrives at your door. If not possible, then you should call as soon as possible.
You should consider your individual circumstances to decide if the attorney needs to have knowledge in DCS cases and another area of law, such as criminal law or family law.
A parent can be charged with criminal negligence for failing to provide medical care for their child under A.R.S. §13-3623. These felony cases carry the possibility of a prison term, so it is important to find an attorney who handles both DCS and criminal cases.
A parent’s rights can be affected in a family law court if a judge decides that a parent failed to provide recommended medical care under A.R.S. §25-403. In this case, it would be important to find an attorney who handles both DCS and family law cases.
You should seek advice as soon as possible.