Ombudsman's Report: Arizona DCS Violated Law By Interviewing Child Without Consent

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Thursday, February 18, 2016 - 10:18pm
Updated: Friday, February 19, 2016 - 5:05am

The Department of Child Safety violated Arizona law by interviewing a child without parental consent. That’s according to a report released earlier this week from the state’s ombudsman. But this legal issue isn’t expected to have much of a practical effect on the work of the department. 

The Arizona Ombudsman-Citizens' Aide received a complaint from a parent in October 2014 about a DCS employee interviewing her children at school without her consent. After investigation, the ombudsman's office substantiated the claims and concluded based on state law "a DCS worker cannot interview a child without parental consent for cases of neglect that do not involve abuse or abandonment."  

The agency does not agree with that legal interpretation. DCS spokesman Doug Nick said sometimes it's necessary to speak with a child alone. 

"Even in a neglect case, it might be best practice to have the child interviewed away from that parent so that they aren’t intimidated,” said Nick.  

The statements a child makes in these interviews are likely used in dependency court proceedings. Attorney Gregg Woodnick represents parents accused of child abuse and neglect. He said unlike in criminal cases where evidence can’t be introduced in court if gathered improperly, statements from children often are allowed regardless of procedure. 

“Even though the information may not have been obtained exactly as envisioned under a statute, the court is very likely to consider it," Woodnick said, "Because the consequence of excluding that information could be to put a child in harm’s way.”    

The agency said it will wait for an opinion from the attorney general to settle the issue.