Your Rights in Tennessee When Your Child Is Taken by DCS

By Sameca Pandova

Updated November 28, 2018

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The Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS) investigated 74,669 reports of child abuse and neglect in 2017. The goal of DSC is to assure the safety and welfare of a child and to reunite the child with his parents and family whenever possible. If a DCS investigation uncovers abuse or neglect and the child is removed from the parental home, the parents can appeal a DSC finding of abuse. DCS requires these parents to complete permanency plans and meet certain requirements to regain custody of their children.


Parents can appeal the determination when a Tennessee DCS investigation determines that an allegation of child abuse or neglect is indicated. They're encouraged to actively cooperate and participate with DCS as a permanency plan is created and implemented.

The Initial DCS Investigation

DCS is required to respond to and investigate any report of neglect or abuse. The child is typically interviewed separately from the alleged abuser and might be examined by a forensic medical examiner. DCS social workers will conduct an interview with the parents and survey the home as part of the initial phases of investigation.

Parents can cooperate with DCS and allow the investigators to have access to the premises. If they do not allow the agency's workers in, DCS can obtain court-ordered compliance through the use of local law enforcement. The child will be taken into DCS custody if the investigation finds valid concerns.

Parent's Right to Appeal

A parent will receive an "allegation indicated" letter and "perpetrator indicated" if the abuser is identified as part of the DCS investigation. "Allegation indicated" means that DCS has found that abuse has occurred but that there is insufficient evidence as to the identity of the abuser. "Perpetrator indicated" means that DCS has been able to identify the abuser.

Parents have 10 days after receipt of a "perpetrator indicated letter to appeal the finding by filing an appeal request in writing with the local DCS office.

Parental Rights During DCS Custody

DCS involves the parents actively in the investigation and child assessments. The goal is to identify the areas in which parents and family need to improve in order to obtain permanency for the child.

DCS typically schedules a family team meeting within 30 days of the investigation. The meeting includes all DCS representatives involved in the matter, as well as the parents. The team creates a permanency plan, which is a roadmap the parents and family must follow to regain custody. The parent is entitled to regular updates from the DCS on the status and progress of the child throughout this process.

Release of Child from DSC to the Parents

The child is released from DCS custody and returned to the parents if they successfully comply with the service plan provided by the family team and upon judicial review. The release date depends upon the cooperation and effort of the parents.

When Parents Do Not Comply

Sometimes parents cannot or do not finish their service plans as the judge outlines. In these cases, the department will move toward other permanency options. Biological parents can voluntarily sign their parental rights away. In some cases, the judge orders the termination of parental rights. Either way, the biological parents lose legal responsibilities and rights over the child.

The child is then legally free for adoption. DCS prioritizes placing children with suitable kin. When this is not possible, the child's foster parents throughout the case or other foster parents can adopt the child. Sometimes the adoption is open, meaning that the adoptive family allows the biological parent to contact the child in certain situations. However, other adoptions are closed and the adoptive parents may even change the child's name.