We hear a lot about children experiencing horrendous physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. However, we rarely hear horror stories about children experiencing emotional abuse. Yet, emotional abuse is real, and it can cause trauma that can take years of therapy to heal. Knowing just how dangerous emotional abuse can be, many family members of emotionally abused children are wondering if DCFS will remove the children based on emotional abuse alone. DCFS does seek removal of children from abusive homes. However, removing a child from the home is typically considered to be a last resort. Therefore, if a child is experiencing emotional abuse, it may be difficult to promptly remove them from their home, if they are removed from the home at all.
What Is DCFS?
DCFS is the Division of Child and Family Services. Their purpose is to advocate for children who cannot advocate for themselves, or protect themselves. DCFS accomplishes this by investigating reports of abuse, providing courts with information from investigations, and making arrangements—when necessary—for children who are found to be subjected to abuse and/or neglect. Once a report is filed, DCFS may visit the home of the family if DCFS feels as though they have enough information to investigate. During the investigation, claims are either substantiated or unsubstantiated. It’s important to note that unsubstantiated does not mean there isn’t any abuse; it just means that there isn’t enough evidence to support a finding of abuse. These investigations may be long and invasive, even if claims are initially unsubstantiated. Although DCFS investigations can lead to children being removed from the home, DCFS itself does not determine whether or not children are removed from the home. That power is reserved for the courts.
Is Emotional Abuse Real Abuse?
Emotional abuse is considered to be abuse even though it doesn’t result in physical injury. Children who have been emotionally abused may experience lasting effects well into adulthood. For example, children who have been abused may be more likely to experience problems with substance abuse. They may also develop a pattern of entering emotionally abusive relationships, have a hard time trusting people, and may be vulnerable to substance abuse. Though emotional abuse doesn’t leave bruises, there are subtle signs a child may be experiencing emotional abuse. A child who’s being emotionally abused may have poor academic performance, cognitive difficulties, behavioral issues, and more.
When Are Children Removed from the Home?
DCFS is unlikely to randomly show up at your home and remove your children from the home on the first visit. In most cases, removing the child from their home is a last resort that requires court intervention. This is because, according to Utah law, “a parent has the right, obligation, responsibility, and authority to raise, manage, train, educate, provide and care for, and reasonably discipline the parent’s children.” Because of this, it can be particularly difficult to remove a child from the home solely due to emotional abuse. If children are at risk for being removed from the home, a shelter hearing will be held to determine whether or not a child will be removed from the home, and where they’ll go if they’re removed from the home. Again, children may only be removed under certain circumstances, and it’s the state’s burden to prove that the children need to be removed from the home. And, as previously mentioned, removing the children from the home is typically a last resort.
Proving Emotional Abuse
Outside of extreme cases of emotional abuse, it may be difficult to remove a child from a parent’s custody due to emotional abuse alone. A lot of this has to do with the fact that, if a child’s physical needs are being met, and the child isn’t experiencing neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse, it may be difficult to prove that the child is being emotionally abused. When it comes to child abuse cases, Utah does not take preventative measures. For example, if your ex is living a registered sex offender, the court generally will not immediately prevent your children from going over to your ex’s house during your ex’s parent time. Instead, the state will only step in after there is evidence abuse has occured.
When You Have Concerns
If you have concerns about a child, it’s important to keep an eye out for any signs of abuse. Keep thorough documentation of everything that could indicate the child is being abused. If you have concerns about a child in your family, contacting a family law attorney can help you protect your family and the children within it. At CoilLaw, our attorneys are committed to fighting for the rights of our clients. If you need help with any family law matters, contact CoilLaw today for a consultation.