General Information about Child Abuse and Neglect

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In the Kentucky legal system, most cases involving child abuse are called "DNA" actions, which stands for "Dependent, Neglected or Abused." Most child abuse falls into either the "neglect" category where the parent or custodian doesn’t adequately take care of the child or "abuse" where the parent or custodian physically or emotionally injures the child or allows someone else to physically or emotionally injure the child. When an act of child abuse is reported to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services or to law enforcement, the Child Protective Services (CPS) workers from the county office will begin an investigation. (Read more about reporting child abuse.)

I think my grandchild is being abused by his parent. What do I do?
You must make a report to the Child Abuse Reporting Hotline (1-800-752-6200) of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), or your local police if you think any child is being abused or neglected. The Cabinet will then investigate the situation.

If you feel like the child is in immediate danger, you may be able to file an Affidavit for an Emergency Custody Order. You can download the Affidavit (PDF file, 254 KB), or you can get it from the District Court Clerk's office. A judge may review the Affidavit to determine if the child is in immediate danger. If the judge finds that the child is in immediate danger, the judge can order the child to be temporarily removed from the home. The emergency custody order will usually only be effective for 72 hours (three days), excluding weekends and holidays, and then a temporary removal hearing will usually be held before the court.

If you don't feel like a judge would determine that the child is in immediate danger, but you feel like the child is being abused or neglected, you could file a Petition for a Dependency, Neglect or Abuse action in juvenile court. You can download the Petition (PDF file, 282 KB), or you can get it from the District Court Clerk's office. Once the petition has been filed, a hearing will usually be scheduled within ten days from the filing date of the petition.

What is the goal in a Dependency, Neglect and Abuse (DNA) proceeding?
The goal is to protect and care for the child. DNA proceedings are not criminal proceedings, so the parent cannot be incarcerated, fined, or put on probation as a result. The parent could have to pay for some treatment costs, however.

Child abuse is a serious crime that can be punished under other laws. It is possible to have a DNA case for the child, and a criminal case against the parent who harmed the child.

What happens after Child Protective Services (CPS) receives a report about a possible DNA case?
A caseworker will get information about the case from the person who reported the possible abuse or neglect. The caseworker can also get records from CPS of past problems involving the same family. The caseworker usually visits the child and family next. The caseworker will try to determine if the child was abused or neglected and who was responsible for causing the abuse or neglect.

Based on this investigation, the caseworker will decide whether or not the child has been abused or neglected.

Can a CPS worker take a child into custody without taking the case to court first?
Yes, at least in some cases. The caseworker can get an Emergency Custody Order to remove the child if the caseworker believes (and the judge finds) that the child will be in immediate danger if the child is not immediately taken into custody. However, in most cases, the caseworker will not take the child out of the home, but will instead offer services to the family.

What happens if CPS does not find any evidence of child abuse or neglect?
CPS is required to classify all reports of suspected abuse or neglect as "substantiated" or "unsubstantiated." CPS will classify the report as unsubstantiated if they did not find credible evidence that abuse or neglect has occurred.

What happens if CPS finds "substantiated" abuse or neglect?
CPS may recommend to the court that the family participate in services as determined to be necessary by the Cabinet.

Can the child's parents be represented by an attorney in a DNA case?
Yes. The parents are entitled to be represented by attorneys. Parents who cannot afford an attorney may request a free court-appointed attorney. The court should appoint an attorney to represent the parents if the parents cannot afford an attorney. This information is given to the parents in the court papers they receive telling them about the case and they can also ask the court to appoint an attorney at the temporary removal hearing (see below) if they cannot afford to hire one. Use this form (PDF file, 200 KB) to request an attorney to be appointed.

What happens once a child is removed and/or a DNA case is filed?
There will be several hearings. A temporary removal hearing will be held, usually within 72 hours (three days) excluding weekends and holidays, from the time when the child was removed, or within ten days from the date of the filing of the DNA petition. At this hearing, the state (the Commonwealth or County attorney and/or the Cabinet for Health and Family Services CPS worker) will have to prove that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child would be dependent, abused or neglected if the child was returned to his/her parent or custodian. If the state meets this burden, the court will issue an order for temporary removal and grant temporary custody to the Cabinet or to relatives of the child. A hearing will also be scheduled, usually within 45 days. An attorney called a "Guardian Ad Litem" will be appointed to represent the interests of the child. The court may also appoint a court-appointed special advocate volunteer (CASA Volunteer) to also represent the best interests of the child. The parents can request that the court appoint an attorney to represent them at the next hearing, if they cannot afford one. Use this form (PDF file, 200 KB) to request an attorney to be appointed.

If the state does not meet this burden, then the case is dismissed and the child is returned to the parent or custodian.

The Cabinet must file a case "permanency plan" for the child with the court. At the next hearing, the court will decide what orders should be made regarding the child's placement and what services are needed to help the child and her parents. The goal is to get the family back together, if possible.

Are DNA cases periodically reviewed by the court?
Yes. The Cabinet must file a case progress report at least once every six months with the court. Periodic hearings may also be held. The court may consider written reports from professionals and experts and will decide what should happen in regard to the child's placement. The court will also determine whether the Cabinet has made reasonable efforts to provide family services and whether the services are meeting the needs and best interests of the child.

If the child is taken away from the parents, do the parents still have a chance to see their child and eventually get the child back?
Yes. The Cabinet is usually required to establish some type of visitation between the parents and the child after the child is removed. The majority of abused and neglected children are returned to their families after treatment is completed. However, the Cabinet may choose to pursue another permanent plan for the child, and proceed to terminate the parents' rights.

My child was a victim of a sex offense by a neighbor. Will a child abuse case be opened against me?
No, not necessarily. To have a case opened, the child must also need care, treatment, or rehabilitation that she/he is not receiving and that her/his family is unlikely to give without a court order. This means that a case would probably only be opened if you (her/his parents) are unwilling or unable to provide her/him with the help she/he needs. So if you have taken all the necessary steps to protect your child and get her/him any necessary treatment, a case will probably not be opened against you.

Reviewed August 2009