Chapter 2 : Section 3

Initial Contact and Conducting Interviews

Policy

The Department shall conduct investigations by interviewing and personally observing the alleged child victim, interviewing other children and individuals, reviewing documents, and using other accepted investigative techniques, as necessary to gather sufficient information to determine:

  • whether the alleged child victim is currently safe or unsafe;

  • the nature, extent, and cause of any condition created by the parents, guardians, custodians, or adult member of the household that would support or refute the allegation that the child is a victim of abuse or neglect;

  • the name, age, and condition of other children in the home; and

  • whether any child is in need of safety actions or services.

The Department shall:

  • contact the reporting source;

  • interview the alleged child victim, or personally observe the alleged child victim if the child cannot be interviewed due to age or inability to communicate;

  • interview other children living in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect;

  • interview the alleged perpetrator(s);

  • interview parent(s), guardian(s), and/or custodian(s) of the alleged child victim(s) living in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect;

  • interview all other adults living in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect (including the spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, roommates, etc.); and

  • interview parent(s), guardian(s), and/or custodian(s) of the alleged child victim(s) living in a different household, if the whereabouts can be reasonably determined.

The interviews listed above shall be conducted in-person, except for the following:

  • the reporting source may be interviewed by telephone; and

  • a parent(s), guardian(s), and/or custodian(s) living in a different household from the home of the alleged abuse or neglect, who is not an alleged perpetrator and is not being considered for placement, may be interviewed by telephone.

Interview other children, adults, and collateral sources of information who may have witnessed or been told about the alleged abuse or neglect and/or safety threats, or may be able to fill a gap or resolve a discrepancy in the information needed to assess family functioning and child safety. For example, these individuals may include:

  • siblings and half-siblings of the child victim who live in a separate household;

  • siblings and other children who frequent the home where the abuse or neglect occurred (a parent must provide written consent to interview the child unless the child initiates contact or is a sibling to an alleged victim);

  • other adults who frequent the home or have contact with the child (such as a parent’s spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, roommate);

  • school personnel;

  • medical providers;

  • child care providers;

  • relatives; and

  • neighbors.

Prior to interviewing a child, the Department shall obtain written consent from the parent, guardian, or custodian, except when the child being interviewed is:

  • the subject of an investigation;

  • a sibling of the subject of an investigation;

  • a child who lives with the subject of an investigation;

  • a child who initiates contact with the Department; or

  • a child identified in a report alleging a criminal conduct allegation.

The Department may exclude a parent, guardian, custodian, household member, or any other individual from being present during the interview with the alleged victim, the alleged victim’s siblings, or other children residing in the alleged victim’s household.

DCS Personnel shall present a DCS Identification card to everyone interviewed.

Before interviewing a parent, guardian, and/or custodian who is an alleged perpetrator, the Department shall:

  • verbally inform the parent, guardian, and/or custodian of his/her rights and duties;

  • provide the parent, guardian, and/or custodian with the Notice of Duty to Inform; and

  • ask the parent, guardian, and/or custodian to sign a written acknowledgment of receipt of the information.

The Department shall collect information from parents about their child's ethnicity.

The Department shall coordinate investigations with law enforcement according to protocols established with the appropriate municipal or county law enforcement agency when one or more of the following circumstances exist:

  • The Report alleges or the investigation indicates that the child is or may be the victim of criminal conduct.

  • The Report alleges or the investigation indicates that the child is a victim of sexual abuse.

  • The Report alleges or the investigation indicates that the child is a victim of commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking.

  • Law enforcement is conducting a criminal investigation of the alleged child abuse and neglect or an investigation is anticipated.

If during the course of an investigation, the Department determines that a criminal offense may have been committed or a new allegation of abuse or neglect not previously reported is present, the Department shall immediately provide information to the appropriate law enforcement agency and the Child Abuse Hotline (Hotline).

As soon as possible but in no more than 24 hours, any child who is identified as a sex trafficking victim shall be reported to law enforcement for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

In instances of criminal conduct against a child, the Department shall protect the victim's rights of the child.

If any person involved with an assessment or case notifies the Department of enrollment in the Address Confidentially Program, the Department shall follow the procedures in Administrative Policy DCS 07-12 Address Confidentiality Program, including :

  • confirm enrollment; and

  • once verified shall maintain the person's home address as confidential; and keep it separate from the record (paper and electronic)

Procedures

Joint Investigation with Law Enforcement

Criminal conduct allegations require a joint investigation with the law enforcement entity of the jurisdiction where the allegations reportedly occurred. Prior to conducting interviews with the family, consult local law enforcement where the incident occurred and coordinate investigative efforts and interviews according to an appropriate interview sequence designated by the assigned law enforcement agent. Each county has different protocols for Joint investigations, which may be accessed at Joint Investigation Protocols

Joint Investigations are a partnership with law enforcement requiring clear role delineation. The roles and responsibilities of law enforcement and DCS personnel are different.

Protocols for Joint Investigation

Coordinate the investigation with the identified law enforcement agency. Coordination requires a shared, cooperative approach and ongoing consultation, collaboration, and communication. Joint investigations include:

  • developing a plan to complete the investigation;

  • responding with law enforcement;

  • communicating openly and frequently to discuss the status of the assessment or case; and

  • obtaining and sharing information in a timely manner, particularly at the following critical communication points:

    • completion of interviews;

    • filing of a dependency petition;

    • prior to the return of the child victim to the home at any time during the life of the assessment or case;

    • prior to the return of an alleged perpetrator to the home at any time during the life of the assessment or case;

    • re-assessment of safety to include a possible change in the safety plan or a change in placement; and

    • disclosure of information about the criminal conduct.

Initiate the investigation within the assigned Standard Response Time.

If law enforcement is not able to respond jointly within the response time requirements established for the Department, explain to the law enforcement agency that the Department is proceeding with its investigation of child safety.

OCWI Joint Investigative Liaisons (JILs) shall be used as a resource for resolving investigative conflicts between DCS and law enforcement. JILs can be reached by calling the Hotline.

When a child is identified as a victim in a report alleging criminal conduct, protect the child victim against harassment, intimidation, and abuse. Do not allow the alleged abusive person or any other person to:

  • threaten, coerce, or pressure the child victim; or

  • be present during interviews, family meetings; or other Departmental actions with the child victim.

Prior to report closure, contact law enforcement to verify there are no additional steps needed by the Department and ask if law enforcement is pursuing prosecution.

Initial Contact – Interviewing and Observing Children

Interview a child who is the subject of investigation (identified as the child victim in the report) or another child who lives in the home prior to law enforcement involvement, when necessary, to determine child safety. Whenever possible, interview the child, siblings, and all other children living in the home in a safe and neutral location. Interview the child alone for all or part of the interview. Ask the parent who is not alleged to have abused or neglected the child to be present for the child interview if the child refuses or is reluctant to be interviewed without the parent being present.

If a child is non-verbal, substitute the interview with observation of the child including the ability of the child to participate in age and developmentally appropriate milestones.

The alleged perpetrator shall not be present during the interview of a child who is the subject of an investigation, the child’s siblings, or any other child in the household.

Provide children with information about the investigation process, including the role of various individuals in the process, and explain that the Department is working to ensure their safety.

When a child is interviewed without consent of the parent, guardian, and/or custodian, initiate contact with the parent, guardian, and/or custodian the same day and inform of the child’s interview. The DCS Specialist should make reasonable efforts to inform the parent, guardian and/or custodian about the interview before the child returns home from school, when applicable.

If efforts to contact the parent, guardian, or custodian are not successful, talk to the reporting source, as appropriate, to determine if there is a means to contact the parent, custodian, and/or guardian. If there is no way to contact the parent, guardian and/or custodian, leave a copy of A Guide to the Department of Child Safety at the home, along with your name, address, phone number, and a request to be contacted.

Interviewing a Child at School

If an interview of a child needs to be conducted at school:

  • Be respectful to the school's rules, schedule, testing, and the child's educational needs.

  • Coordinate with the school's administrative personnel.

  • Provide DCS identification and a copy of the Request for Interview at School.

  • Ask to interview the child privately. If the child requests that a teacher or other school staff member be present for the interview, explain the need to speak with the child privately.

  • Limit the amount of time a child misses classroom instruction.

  • Do not share any additional details of the investigation with school personnel unless needed to determine the child's safety.

  • Collect additional information if needed by requesting school records and interviewing school personnel by using the Request of Release of Education Records (investigation only).

If interviewing the child at school and there is a joint investigation, criminal conduct allegation, or law enforcement involvement, the Department or law enforcement must have parental permission, a court order/warrant, or exigent circumstances to conduct a full interview at school. Exigent circumstances means a child has suffered or will imminently suffer abuse or neglect, and it is reasonable to conclude the child will be in danger if the child returns home.

Without authorization as noted above, the Department can briefly question a child who is the subject of a Hotline report to assess child safety. The Department should:

  • limit the assessment to approximately 20 minutes or less;

  • ask who, what, where, when questions to determine whether there is probably cause to believe that it is clearly necessary to take temporary custody to protect the child from suffering abuse or neglect, and it is contrary to the child’s welfare to remain in his/her home;

  • assess for child safety only; and

  • do not conduct a full interview with the child.

If denied access to the child, notify the DCS Program Supervisor and contact the Attorney General's Office.

Photographing

If a child has visible injuries and/or visible indicators of neglect, arrange to have the child photographed, preferably by law enforcement, a Child Advocacy Center, or a medical professional; and at the same time as a medical evaluation to reduce the number of times the child is examined. If these personnel are not available, photograph the child by depicting the child's entire body and face, not just the external manifestation of abuse. The Department shall not take photographs of a child’s genitals. Photographs should include ruler and color bar where possible. Label each photograph with the child's name, date of photograph, date of birth, name of DCS Specialist, and name of the person taking the picture. Photographs of children can be taken without permission of the parent, guardian and/or custodian.

Preparing to Meet with Parents, Guardians, and/or Custodians

Review the Person Record for each person to determine whether English is the person’s primary language spoken. If another language is the primary language, ask the person if they wish to communicate in their primary language. If the person wishes to communicate in their primary language, ensure interpretation and translation services are in place; see Limited English Proficiency for more information on obtaining language services.

Gather the following documents, and provide them to the parent, guardian, and/or custodian when appropriate and necessary, as defined below:

Informing a Parent, Guardian and/or Custodian Under Investigation of Their Rights

Persons under investigation by the Department have specific rights in addition to any rights afforded in a law enforcement investigation or criminal proceeding. Inform all persons of their rights in a Department investigation, even when law enforcement has informed a parent, guardian, and/or custodian of their rights with regard to a criminal investigation. During a criminal conduct investigation, the Department is required to disclose the allegations, but statute allows the Department to withhold details that would compromise an ongoing investigation.

Upon initial contact (whether by telephone, in-person or other method), inform the parent, guardian, and/or custodian under investigation verbally and in writing of all of the following:

  • The individual is under investigation by the Department and the specific complaint or allegation made against the person.

  • The Department has no legal authority to compel cooperation with the investigation or to compel the parent, guardian, and/or custodian to receive services.

  • The Department shall proceed with the investigation (by interviewing other persons who have information about the alleged abuse or neglect and the safety of any child living in the home, etc.) whether agreed to or not.

  • Refusal to cooperate with the investigation or participate in services offered does not in itself constitute grounds for temporary custody.

  • The Department has the authority to petition the Juvenile Court for a determination that the child is dependent.

  • The right to file a complaint with the Arizona Ombudsman-Citizens Aide Office, the DCS Ombudsman Office and to appeal determinations made by the Department,

  • The right to provide written, telephonic, or other verbal responses to the allegation(s), including any documentation, and to have the information considered in determining whether the child is in need of Department intervention.

  • Anything the person says or writes can be used in a court proceeding.

  • Any verbal response will be included in the report of the investigation.

  • Any written response, including any document, will be included in the Department’s record.

  • Any information provided in response to the allegation(s) will be considered during the investigation.

After informing the parent, guardian, and/or custodian of the above rights, have the parent, guardian, and/or custodian sign the Notice of Duty to Inform, acknowledging receipt of notification of these rights. Provide a copy to the parent, guardian, and/or custodian.

Provide the parent, guardian and/or custodian with the telephone number for the DCS Office of the Ombudsman (602-364-0777) and the Arizona Ombudsman-Citizens' Aide (602-277-7292).

Conducting Interviews of Parents, Guardians, and/ or Custodians Who Reside in the Household of the Alleged Abuse or Neglect

Prior to initiating contact with an adult who resides in the household of the alleged abuse or neglect, review the information available to effectively develop a strategy to engage the participant. Not every interview is the same and each person may require a different technique in order to effectively engage in the interview process. If needed, consult with other Department personnel to assist in this process.

Establish a working relationship with the family to facilitate information gathering. Spend sufficient time establishing and building rapport with the child’s parents, guardians and/or custodians by:

  • notifying parents, guardians and/or custodians of their rights relative to the investigative process at the very beginning of the investigation;

  • explaining, as part of the introductory process, the role of the DCS Specialist, role of the Department and the essence of the report (without getting into the details of the maltreatment until the interview process has begun in full);

  • addressing parental concerns, deflecting strong reactions, and demonstrating empathy in response to significant emotions resulting from the parent, guardian and/or custodian’s response to being a subject of an investigation;

  • empowering parents, guardians and/or custodians by asking for assistance in arranging for a private place to conduct interviews, scheduling follow-up interviews, and asking for additional contact information on family members, friends and individuals in their support network who they want the investigator to speak with about their family’s circumstances; and

  • guiding the interview process by redirecting the conversation back to the collection of relevant information when parents, guardians and/or custodians repeatedly move off-topic, recognizing the difference between intentional avoidance or misdirection and the need for the Specialist to address a legitimate concern before refocusing the interview.

During the initial interview with parents, guardians and/or custodians who reside in the household of the alleged abuse or neglect, the DCS Specialist should ask questions to elicit information related to the following domains of family functioning:

  • Extent of child maltreatment;

  • Circumstances surrounding the maltreatment;

  • Child functioning on a daily basis;

  • Adult functioning on a daily basis;

  • General parenting practices; and

  • Discipline and behavior management.

For more information to assist in conducting interviews see Family Functioning Assessment - Investigation.

If unable to complete in-person interviews in the home, complete one visit to the home of the child victim to observe the physical condition of the home and the living environment, and to assess the safety of the children in the home. Document observations, and take photographs if appropriate.

Ask the parent, guardian, and/or custodian if the child's parent is of American Indian heritage/ancestry. On the Notice of Duty to Inform, document the response, including the name of tribe of which the child is a member or is eligible for enrollment.

Ask the parent, guardian, and/or custodian to identify their child’s ethnicity.

Conducting Interviews of Parents, Guardians, and/or Custodians Who Do Not Reside in the Household of the Alleged Abuse or Neglect

The DCS Specialist shall gather information about any parent, guardian, and/or custodian of an alleged child victim who does not reside in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect in order to determine:

  • the person’s name, address, and other contact information;

  • whether paternity or other legal relationship has been established between the child and parent;

  • whether there are any court orders related to custody, visitation, or contact with the parent, guardian and/or custodian; and

  • the frequency, duration, and nature of contacts between the parent, guardian and/or custodian and child(ren).

The DCS Specialist shall interview all parent(s), guardian(s), and/or custodian(s) of the alleged child victim(s) who do not reside in the household of the alleged abuse or neglect, if the whereabouts can be reasonably determined. During the interview, the DCS Specialist will:

  • confirm the relationship between the child and the other parent, guardian and/or custodian;

  • inform the parent, guardian, and/or custodian of the allegation of abuse or neglect to the child;

  • gather information from the parent, guardian, and/or custodian regarding the six domains of family functioning pertaining to the home of the alleged abuse or neglect; and

  • gather information about the household of the parent, guardian, and/or custodian being interviewed as described in Family Functioning Assessment - Investigation.

For more information about conducting interviews see Family Functioning Assessment - Investigation.

Ask the parent, guardian, and/or custodian if either of the child's parents are of American Indian heritage/ancestry.

Ask the parent, guardian, or custodian to identify their child’s ethnicity.

Interviewing Collateral Contacts

In most instances, the reporting source should be the first individual contacted, prior to commencing the investigation. Contact the reporting source to corroborate information obtained by the Hotline and obtain other information the reporter might have on the extent of the maltreatment, circumstances surrounding the maltreatment, child functioning, adult functioning, general parenting, and disciplinary and behavior management practices. Ask the reporting source for the names and contact information of other reliable collateral contacts who know the family.

Identify collateral contacts likely to have relevant and reliable information on the family. Protect the identity of the collateral contacts, to the extent possible, when discussing with the family information shared about the family.

In addition to individuals who have direct knowledge about circumstances surrounding the maltreatment, collateral contacts or sources may include:

  • individuals who have regular contact with the child and are likely to be able to describe the child’s day-to-day functioning;

  • doctors or other professionals who have evaluated or maintain records on the child;

  • individuals with established personal or professional relationships with the parent, guardian and/or custodian who can likely describe the parent, guardian and/or custodian’s day-to-day functioning; and

  • individuals likely to have witnessed the interactions between the child and parent, guardian and/or custodian, and/or who can describe general parenting and disciplinary and behavior management practices.

When interviewing relatives, neighbors, and others about the alleged abuse or neglect, share only the information that is necessary to secure additional information about the child and family.

Address Confidentiality Program

If a person notifies the Department of enrollment in the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP), the Department shall follow the procedures outlined in Administrative Policy DCS 07-12 Address Confidentiality Program.

Observing Family Interactions

If family members are seen together, observe family interactions and the family conditions to which the child(ren) are routinely exposed, protective capacities, style of communication, power and control dynamics, and parenting skills as actually applied compared to those described by parents, guardians and/or custodians.

Parent-Child Interactions

If a parent, guardian and/or custodian and child are seen together, observe attachment and interaction dynamics to assess child and adult functioning, general parenting, and parental disciplinary practices and behavior management. Observe whether any of the following are occurring in the parent-child interactions, to evaluate parental protective capacities:

  • Child displays behaviors that seem to provoke strong reactions from the parent, guardian and/or custodian.

  • Parent, guardian and/or custodian ignores inconsequential behavior or appropriately responds to child’s “acting out.”

  • Child has difficulty verbalizing or communicating needs to parent, guardian and/or custodian.

  • Parent, guardian and/or custodian easily recognizes child’s needs and responds accordingly.

  • Child demonstrates little self-control and repeatedly has to be re-directed by parent, guardian and/or custodian.

  • Child plays independently or with siblings/friends age appropriately.

  • Child responds much more favorably to one family member.

  • Family members appropriately express affection for each other.

  • Parent, guardian and/or custodian demonstrates good / poor communication or social skills.

  • Parent, guardian and/or custodian is very attentive / ignores or is very inattentive to child’s expressed or observable needs.

  • Parent, guardian and/or custodian consistently / inconsistently applies discipline or guidance to the child.

  • Parent, guardian and/or custodian reacts impulsively to situations or circumstances in the home.

  • Parent, guardian and/or custodian demonstrates adequate coping skills in handling unexpected challenges.

Adult Interactions

If the parents, guardians and/or custodians are seen together, observe how the identified alleged perpetrator and non-offending parent, guardian and/or custodian (and other adult caregivers) relate to each other. Observe the following interpersonal and relationship dynamics to assess parental protective capacity to manage out-of-control behaviors, actions, or conditions identified in the home:

  • One individual appears much more dominant or controlling in the relationship (i.e., interrupts conversations, challenges partner’s statements, exhibits dismissive non-verbal communication in response to other person’s comments – rolling of eyes, smirks, etc.).

  • The non-offending caregiver appears very self-confident and self-assured.

  • The adult relationship appears volatile and “all consuming” leaving inadequate time or energy for non-offending parent to address child’s needs.

  • The non-offending caregiver attempts to demonstrate effective parenting efforts, but is undermined by the alleged perpetrator.

  • Only one individual appears to be effective in disciplining and managing child behavior.

  • A co-dependent, high/low functioning dynamic appears to exist between the individuals with significant caregiver responsibility with the identified alleged perpetrator not being held accountable for inappropriate or irresponsible behavior(s) by the higher functioning, more capable adult.

Criminal Conduct or New Allegations Disclosed During the Investigation

If during the course of an investigation, evidence suggests an allegation might be criminal conduct, contact the Hotline via an Intake Supervisor to add the allegation to the current report.

If the Intake Supervisor believes that the allegation meets criminal conduct criteria (See Investigations Involving Allegations of Criminal Conduct), the Intake Supervisor adds a tracking characteristic of criminal conduct to the allegation and contacts OCWI. If determined that the allegation meets criminal conduct criteria, the OCWI Manager contacts law enforcement.

If during the course of the investigation, the information collected reveals new or previously unreported incidents of abuse or neglect, contact the Hotline to provide the new information.

If during the course of the investigation, evidence indicates that a felony criminal offense perpetrated by someone other than a parent, guardian, or custodian or other adult member of the child's home has been committed, contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.

Documentation

Document all interviews in narrative form with the date, type, time, location, who was present, and information collected; or the concerted efforts to locate, contact, and interview.

Document ethnicity for each person in the person record.. If the parent, guardian and/or custodian identifies any American Indian ancestry or heritage, document in the Tribal Affiliation in Guardian.

Document any consultation with the Attorney General’s Office in a Note under AG Contact.

Document consultation with the DCS Program Supervisor, or designee, in a Note under Supervisory/Management Contact.

File written, telephonic, or verbal responses to the allegation provided by the subject of a DCS assessment, any written response to the allegation, and any documentation obtained from the subject of a DCS assessment in the hard copy record.

Scan all written reports and documentation provided by collateral sources and upload as an Artifact in Guardian, and file hard copies in the hard copy file records. See Note Types Guide.

Effective Date: February 1, 2021
Revision History: July 1, 2013, November 30, 2012, September 13,2013, February 12, 2016, November 11, 2016, June 12th, 2017, July 2, 2018