The Department of Child Safety is asking courts statewide to halt trials...

This post is not intended as legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. If you have specific legal questions please contact a licensed attorney in the state you reside.

News broke this week that the Department of Child Safety is asking courts statewide to halt trials while they investigate a potential disclosure issue. You might be thinking, hasn’t this happened before? DCS did discover a major disclosure issue in 2012, but they did not halt trials. The issue in 2012 was related to CHILDS, the old software system used by DCS, not producing all of the records for records requests. Below is a picture of the letters attorneys received at the time alerting counsel to the disclosure issue with CHILDS.

So what happened this time? In February 2021, DCS launched the long awaited replacement for CHILDS, Guardian. Certainly an improvement in replacing the software from the 1990’s, but the launch was plagued with problems. It was believed the problems had largely been resolved, that is, until a letter was dispatched from the Attorney General’s Office on August 21, 2023[1]. The letter asks courts statewide to halt all trials for a period of two weeks. The issue? Documents from services providers were not being approved by case managers and supervisors, preventing them from becoming part of the case file, and subsequently not being disclosed. News outlets are reporting there are 95,000 documents involved, and this may just be the tip of the iceberg. 

Who does this impact? Families with open cases since February 2021 are potentially impacted. DCS has identified 3,800 juvenile dependency cases statewide may be affected, and 139 finalized adoptions. Ongoing cases, including those on appeal, are also facing disruption and delays.

Why does this matter? Due process. DCS has an affirmative duty to disclose records. Parents and children, and their attorneys, are entitled to records on these cases. Important constitutional rights are at stake in DCS cases, and families are entitled to due process regarding parental rights.

What does this mean? It simply is not realistic that this will be resolved in a period of two weeks. Two weeks will only scratch the surface of identifying which cases are impacted, if that can even be accomplished in that timeframe. Then comes the herculean task of disclosing those records, and then for those records to be received and reviewed by the attorneys representing parents and children.

Does this mean cases since the inception of the Guardian system are now in question? Not necessarily. Relief from final order is limited to a maximum time frame of 6 months.[2] Adoptions finalized over a year ago should be secure. Adoption orders are final and not open to review regardless of irregularities one year after the final decree of adoption.[3]

Bottom line, if you have questions or are concerned you may be impacted by this news, call your attorney right away.

[1] Letter (PDF)

[2] Arizona Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure Rule 318.

[3] A.R.S. § 8-123

[1] Arizona Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure Rule 318. [1] A.R.S. § 8-123

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