What to do if Accused of Child Abuse or Neglect

Posted over 2 years ago. Applies to Oregon, 2 helpful votes



DO respond to DHS calls and answer the door.

One of the worst mistakes people make is ignoring the DHS card left in their door or the message on their voicemail. While it's a good idea not to give too much information at the start, ignoring DHS can easily make it look like you are hiding something. Be polite and honest with DHS, and acknowledge that you know they have a job to do. Simply inform them that you need to speak with an attorney before answering questions.


DON'T answer questions without talking to an attorney.

DHS may be investigating you, but there is no reason that you have to give them negative information or facts. DHS is the government just like the police; you should never answer questions from the police without first consulting an attorney, and the same goes with DHS. Anything you say to DHS can, and almost certainly will, but used against you later. It is common for people to say things that they think will help them only to have it come back and bite them later. Speak to an experienced child abuse attorney before doing any interviews with DHS.


DO show up to any and all court dates or meetings on time.

Child abuse and neglect has more to it than just allegations of injuries or lack of basic necessities; often the allegations have to do with a pattern of instability that leaves the children vulnerable. One of the most important things a parent can do, right from the beginning, is appear responsible and consistent. If DHS gives you notice of a meeting or a court date, make it a top priority to be there on time. Again, you don't have to answer any questions without speaking to an attorney first, but just showing up can do wonders to show how stable you are.


DON'T try to run away from DHS.

Our bodies are designed to react one of two ways when stressed: fight or flight. It's natural for some people to feel the urge to run away when DHS comes knocking. Resist the urge to run away with your children, whether to another city, another state, or another country. Different jurisdictions work together and DHS will attempt to locate you. If you run and hide, you will make it look like that there is a reason for DHS to be involved. Stay and speak to an attorney about your rights instead.


DO speak to an attorney right away.

The beginning of a DHS case is a critical time to get an attorney on board to protect you and your children's rights. Many people wait until after the first court hearing (often called a "shelter" or "preliminary" hearing) to get a lawyer, but by then DHS has completed an investigation and has built a case against you. Call an experienced attorney at the first hint of DHS investigation to make sure that the investigation is conducted properly and that your rights are protected. It can make a world of difference to have an attorney fighting for you from the beginning, and can actually avoid having to go to court at all in some cases.


DON'T fight with DHS.

As stated above, DHS involvement is a terrifying prospect for parents. Sometimes a parent's worst nightmare comes true, and DHS not only comes around but actually removes the child to foster care. A parent's natural instinct is often to fight if this happens, but try to resist that urge and contact a child abuse attorney instead. Fighting with DHS will not change their minds, and can add to the concerns that DHS already has. Even worse, it can lead to new allegations against you and even criminal charges. Overcome your fear and anger and let DHS take the children (this may seem impossible, but it really is the best course of action). Know that DHS will have to bring the case before a judge the next business day and will have to justify why they removed the children. Call an experience child abuse attorney right away to make sure you are best prepared to fight to have your children returned to you.

Additional Resources

Oregon DHS Child Protective Services

Youth, Rights & Justice (formerly Juvenile Rights Project)

Oregon Governor's Advocacy Office

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Related Topics

Child custody

Child custody involves decisions about who will be responsible for a child, including parental rights, for both married and unmarried parents, and adoptions.

Child neglect and custody

Child neglect is the failure to provide the necessary physical, medical, or emotional care for a child, but exact definitions vary between states and agencies.

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