When a person finds out there is hotline investigation regarding one of their children, a frequent question I am asked is “What happens now?” Unfortunately the process is not very straight forward and it is not something one can easily look up on the internet. Terms investigators use can be confusing, how long investigations take can vary, and the titles of the people involved can be an alphabet soup of acronyms.
Whether you are the person reporting abuse, or the person who is accused, it is important to understand what happens from the time a hotline call is made. Below is a general flow chart of the process. As there are too many variables with each specific case, this is only meant to be a general guide.
Step one . . . Hotline Call! Once the division takes the call and determines whether the caller reports an issue of abuse or neglect of a child, the information is sent to the local Children’s Division office to investigate.
With only limited exceptions, within 24 hours after the local Children’s Division office receives the report from the hotline, a Children’s Division worker will initiate a family assessment or investigation. Both a family assessment and an investigation are used to confirm if there is actual or potential abuse or neglect in the reported case. During an assessment and an investigation, generally the Children’s Division worker assigned to the case will contact the reporter (if known), the family, and the alleged perpetrator. The alleged perpetrator is usually contacted at the end of the investigation. During the investigation, if a hotline call suggests a criminal violation, law enforcement may assist the Children’s Division with their investigation or make their own co-investigation for the purposes of determining whether criminal charges should be filed. With few exceptions, most family assessments and investigation are completed within 30 days of the initial hotline call.
Each case is different and the important thing to remember is that if your child is the subject of a hotline investigation, whether or not you are suspected, it is important to talk to an attorney to discuss the specific facts immediately upon learning of an assessment or investigation.
In Missouri, when child abuse or neglect is suspected, the best action to take is to call the Missouri Department of Social Services, Children’s Division Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected please contact the Missouri Department of Social Services at 1-800-392-3738.