I get asked this question at least 5 times a day. And it is an important question. It may well decide what happens, and what eventually happens to you and your children. Having said that, 99% of the time I recommend that parents NOT talk to social workers. And this advice is not the norm. Many inexperienced juvenile dependency lawyers, routinely tell parents to talk to the social worker, “See if you can work it out.” Many experienced lawyers favor parents talking to social workers to resolve the issues that arise in the juvenile dependency court process.
However, I play the odds. I always tell my client NOT to talk to the social worker, unless I’m present. Here’s why. First, my experience has shown me that many times clients make the mistake of giving information that hurts their case. I met with a client just last night who informed me that he admitted to using drugs, specifically meth, recreationally. This admission was before he retained me. Now, because of that admission, his children are placed in a foster home. Had he not made that admission, the social worker had no evidence that he was a recreational drug user. I would have counseled him to go into drug rehab, while his children were in his custody.
Second, when I say play the odds this is what I mean. If you talk to a social worker, especially without an attorney, there is a significant chance that you will say or do something that is against your interests. If you don’t talk to the social worker it is likely that the worker will inform the judge that you are not cooperating with the investigation. Now on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst case scenario, talking to a social worker is a 10; not talking to a social worker is about a 5. So, you decide which is best. I’ll go with the 5 every time.
Recently, I was sitting in a judge’s chambers and the social worker’s attorney informed the judge that I advised my client not to talk to the social worker, unless I was present. The judge became annoyed and accused me of “game playing.” I professionally defended my actions, reminded the judge about what I believed the law required and didn’t require. Even with that “hit” my client eventually got her children back. Sometimes it takes a little uncomfortable attorney courage to protect your clients’ rights.
I have had a number of clients that have been under investigation before the social worker filed a juvenile court case. And I’ve stopped or stalled those investigations before a juvenile case could be filed; or in the alternative, I’ve limited the detrimental evidence the social worker could use against the parent during a subsequent juvenile court case. After all, in the Superior Court of California it’s all about the EVIDENCE. And the less evidence you give, the better off you may be.
Next, I want to mention the social workers’ TEAM DECISION MAKING meetings, otherwise known as the TDM. A TDM is a meeting at the social worker’s office where they ask you incriminating questions about their child abuse/neglect investigation. Most social workers take the position that your attorney can’t be present. What does that tell you? A governmental inquisition that doesn’t allow you to be represented by an attorney. And on top of all of that, anything and everything that you say CAN be used against you in the juvenile dependency court. NEVER agree to go to a TDM.
Finally, sometimes a social worker will ask you to sign an agreement to have your child placed outside your home while they perform an investigation. My recommendation is NEVER agree to the placement of the child outside your home. I just represented a mother and it took us 30 days to get the child back to her because she agree to an out of home placement with the great aunt. At the end of the investigation, we made sure not court case could be filed, but the mother had to spend 30 days without her 2 year old child. This was result was mainly caused by the mother signing an agreement for out of home placement before she hired our firm.