Chapter 2 : Section 11.3

Investigations Involving Allegations of Criminal Conduct


The Department shall investigate all Reports containing criminal conduct allegations of child abuse with the appropriate law enforcement agency.

The Office of Child Welfare Investigations (OCWI) shall assess, respond to or investigate all Criminal Conduct Reports, which shall be a priority, but not otherwise exercise the authority of a peace officer, pursuant to A.R.S. § 8-471.

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 investigator determines that a criminal offense (a felony crime committed against a child by someone other than their parent, guardian, custodian or adult member of their household) may have occurred, the investigator shall immediately provide the information to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

If during the course of an investigation, the investigator reasonably believes that abuse or neglect not previously reported is present, the investigator shall immediately report this information to the 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.


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, contact 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; these protocols may be accessed at Joint Investigation Protocols.

DCS Specialists and OCWI Investigators will confirm that all interviews pertinent to addressing the alleged criminal conduct are completed. In accordance with Joint Investigations Protocols, care should be taken to not duplicate child victim interviews. Law enforcement permission should be sought prior to conducting interviews if there is a reason to believe that the interview may compromise an ongoing criminal investigation, and as required by the joint protocol. Confer with the DCS Program Supervisor and OCWI Manager when law enforcement permission to interview is denied and child safety has not been assessed.

Joint Investigations are a partnership with law enforcement requiring clear role delineation. The roles and responsibilities of law enforcement and DCS personnel are different. See Joint Investigation with law enforcement in Initial Contact and Conducting Interviews.

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

When a communication is received at the Hotline that meets the statutory criteria for a child abuse or neglect report and the allegations include criminal conduct, a tracking characteristic of criminal conduct will be applied, see DCS Criminal Conduct Hotline Screening Guide. OCWI shall investigate and/or provide joint investigation guidance to criminal conduct reports throughout Arizona.

  • In Maricopa and Pima counties, the Hotline assigns the report directly to OCWI.

  • In all other counties, JILs shall assess the report and provide the assigned DCS field office investigator with direction.

In investigations with a criminal conduct allegation, a present danger plan may not be in place for more than 14 days unless an extension is approved by the Program Manager or OCWI Manager. Within the initial 14 days, the Family Functioning Assessment must be prioritized in order for the DCS Specialist or OCWI Investigator to complete an analysis of impending danger and determine the need for a safety plan to replace the present danger plan. At the end of the 14 days, the Program Manager or OCWI Manager may approve an extension of the present danger plan for up to 14 additional days, if the Department is waiting to receive information that is necessary to determine if an injury to a child was non-accidental or who caused a non-accidental injury (such as follow-up skeletal x-ray, forensic interviews, search warrants, etc.).

Missing Children, Notification, and Entry into Databases

If preliminary information gathered during the investigation indicates the child victim is in present danger and/or impending danger and the whereabouts of the child and family remain unknown, consult with the Attorney General’s Office regarding filing a dependency petition.

An Unable to Locate finding cannot be entered without prior approval from the OCWI Chief or the assigned Program Administrator for criminal conduct reports. Once approved, the Unable to Locate finding should only remain until the investigation has been completed and an appropriate finding is entered. Criminal conduct cases with an Unable to Locate findings cannot be closed without approval from the OCWI Chief or the Program Administrator. See Disposition of Reports and Initial Response.

If applicable, the DCS Specialist or OCWI Investigator must investigate any previous Unable to Locate allegations simultaneously with the allegations in the current Report. Upon completing the investigation, the DCS Specialist or OCWI Investigator must change the Unable to Locate investigation finding to the appropriate finding. See Investigation Allegation Findings.

Protocols for Joint Investigation

Coordinate the investigation with the identified law enforcement agency prior to making contact with the family. 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 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 alleged child victim to the home at any time during the life of the case;

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

    • changes from Out-of-Home to In-Home safety plans;

    • prior to case closure; 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; and

  • elevate within the Department and law enforcement in an effort to reach a resolution prior to engaging with child victim and/or family.

When a child is identified as an alleged victim in a report alleging criminal conduct, protect the child victim against harassment, intimidation, and abuse. The alleged abusive person or any other person shall not be allowed to threaten, coerce, or pressure the child victim, or to be present during interviews, family meetings, or other Departmental actions with the child victim. The DCS Specialist and OCWI Investigator shall follow the Victim Services Administrative Policy.

Prior to OCWI concluding the investigation, contact shall be made to law enforcement to verify there is not additional information that may be useful to the Department and ask if law enforcement is pursuing prosecution. Once verified, the OCWI Investigator will ensure that the Joint Investigation Details has been completed in the report.

Interviewing a Child at School

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 Report to assess if the child is in Present Danger. The Department should limit the interview to approximately 20 minutes or less and ask who, what, where, and when questions. Do not conduct a full interview with the child. A Present Danger decision should then be made to determine whether it is clearly necessary to take temporary custody to protect the child from suffering abuse or neglect, and whether it is contrary to the child’s welfare to remain in the home.

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

OCWI Investigators shall digitally record interviews unless circumstances exist that prevent this preservation of record.


If a child has visible injuries and/or visible indicators of abuse or neglect, arrange to have the child photographed; preferably by law enforcement, a Child Advocacy Center, or a medical professional at the same time as a medical evaluation to reduce the number of times the child is examined. If these personnel are not available, OCWI may 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 a ruler and color bar where possible. Label each photograph with the child's name, date of photograph, date of birth, name of DCS Specialist or OCWI Investigator and name of the person taking the picture. Photographs of children can be taken without permission of the parent, guardian or custodian.

For cases assigned to OCWI, OCWI investigators will ensure photographs are taken in order to preserve a representation of an injury to a child consistent with abuse or neglect as defined in A.R.S. § 8-201. If a law enforcement officer or crime scene photographer is unavailable, the OCWI Investigator will take digital photographs using a color chart, if available, to clearly depict any reports of injuries, visible or not. The OCWI Investigator may also take digital photographs of environments and objects to support or refute an allegation pursuant to A.R.S. § 8-201.

Informing Parent, Guardian or Custodian of Rights

Inform all persons of their rights in a Department investigation, even when law enforcement has informed a parent, guardian, or custodian of their rights with regard to a criminal investigation. See Notice of Duty to Inform.

The Department is required to disclose the allegations of the Report, but may withhold details that would compromise an ongoing investigation.

OCWI Investigators shall digitally record these interviews unless circumstances exist that prevent this preservation of record.

Criminal Conduct or New Allegations Disclosed During the Investigation

If during the course of an investigation, evidence suggests there is a new allegation or that a new allegation might be criminal conduct, contact the Hotline to make a report. The DCS Specialist should contact the appropriate law enforcement agency and document the new allegation after investigations findings.

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, the investigator shall contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.

Team Decision Making

See Team Decision Making (TDM) and follow the policy. If the child is part of a case where the report alleges criminal conduct or the case involves an ongoing criminal investigation or current or pending prosecution, communication between the DCS Specialist or OCWI Investigator, and law enforcement should occur prior to holding the TDM meeting. The DCS Specialist or OCWI Investigator should also communicate with the Duty or assigned Assistant Attorney General (AAG) before the TDM meeting is held.

The following should be discussed with law enforcement, and the Duty or assigned AAG prior to the TDM meeting:

  • The purpose of the TDM meeting (possible topics of discussion).

  • Participants that should be excluded from the TDM meeting and reasons for this decision.

  • Whether Law Enforcement or an AAG be included in the TDM meeting and reasons to support this decision.

  • Specific topics that should not be discussed at the TDM meeting and reason for this decision.

If there are concerns that a TDM meeting may compromise the criminal investigation, the DCS Program Manager or OCWI Deputy Chief will discuss the issues with the assigned DCS Program Supervisor/Manager to determine whether or not to hold the TDM meeting.

The alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator will not be in the same room or on the phone together during a TDM meeting when the case involves:

  • criminal conduct allegations or domestic violence;

  • current or pending criminal prosecution; or

  • the child victim feels threatened or unsafe.

No discussion regarding the criminal conduct allegation is to occur at any point during the TDM meeting.

Safeguarding Case Records

The Department's case records are confidential and shall not be released, except as specified by law. Information received from the OCWI, including the OCWI documentation within Guardian, is DCS information and subject to the same confidentiality protection afforded all DCS information.

The Department is not required to release information when such release would cause a specific, material harm to a DCS or criminal investigation or when such release would likely endanger the life or safety of any person. If the Department releases information, it must take reasonable precautions to protect the identity and safety of the reporting source.

If it is believed that the release of records may harm a criminal investigation, the OCWI Investigator or the DCS Specialist shall contact the County Attorney's Office. If the County Attorney agrees that the disclosure of information would cause a specific, material harm to the criminal investigation, the County Attorney must provide DCS with written documentation supporting this assertion.

The OCWI shall adhere to all local and federal laws, policies, procedures, rules, and guidelines by the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZ DPS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) regarding access, use, dissemination, and destruction of information gained from the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) and the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System (ACJIS). See Administrative Policy, DCS 13-02 Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS).

Conflict Resolution

If at any time there is a disagreement with a decision to remove a Criminal Conduct tracking characteristic or assessment decision, the DCS Program Supervisor and/or OCWI Manager may elevate the issue through their chain of command to seek resolution. The escalation process is as follows:

  • DCS Program Supervisor and OCWI Manager

  • DCS Program Manager and OCWI Deputy Chief

  • DCS Program Administrator and OCWI Chief

  • DCS Deputy Director and OCWI Chief

Modification to the FFA – Investigation

Consider a modification if physical or documentary evidence is obtained at initial contact with the source and/or family that directly refutes the specific allegation that the child has an injury, condition, or circumstance that was the result of physical abuse and if this evidence had been available and provided at the time of the communication with the Hotline, the communication would not have met the criteria to be a Report. For complete criteria, see Family Functioning Assessment - Investigations.


Document the Family Functioning Assessment as outlined in Family Functioning Assessment – Investigation.

Document the status of the joint investigation and/or police involvement. Documentation shall include the:

  • completion of the Joint Investigation Details for all reports containing the "Criminal Conduct" tracking characteristic;

  • identity of the Law Enforcement agency, Detectives names, contact information, and DR# for the incident; and

  • outcomes of the joint investigation and/or police involvement.

Effective Date: February 1, 2021
Revision History: July 1, 2013, January 14, 2015, October 30th, 2017, March 8th, 2018, October 15, 2018, October 30th, 2018, January 23, 2019