Independent report questions Vermont DCF’s investigation process

Is DCF wrongfully helping take children from their parents? One independent group says yes in a new study.
Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 10:22 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Is the Vermont Department for Children and Families wrongfully helping take children from their parents? One independent group says yes in a new study.

The study is based on 32 different cases substantiated by the state agency, although some were appealed. The Vermont Parent Representation Group released the report “Broken Systems/Broken Promises” earlier this month. It focuses specifically on the substantiation process, which is how DCF decides if claims of child abuse are credible. The consequences for substantiation vary.

VPRC has been researching DCF’s substantiation process for two and a half years. VPRC Executive Director Larry Crist says they’ve done so by working with parents who approach them about what they say is a complicated appeals process. “Of the 32 appeals we’ve taken, we’ve completed 26 and we have won 26,” Crist said. “Our goal was to look at the process the state followed. Did DCF follow state law? Did they follow their own rules and policies? Essentially, did they produce the evidence to say you are substantiated?”

DCF Deputy Commissioner Aryka Radke says there are different levels to substantiation, although most of their 18,507 tips received don’t make it that far. “About 10% of the cases last year were actually those that ended up on the investigation track that could be substantiated and of those that ended up on the investigation track, only 30% ended up on substantiation,” Radke said. She adds the process is overseen by a number of people, making decisions based on information that seems credible, which is contrary to what the report says. “Substantiations are a joint decision between the investigator, our family service worker, the investigation unit, and that person’s supervisor.”

The report from VPRC also accuses the substantiation system of being discriminatory, especially toward economically challenged single-parent households. “If a system can’t tell you didn’t abuse a child, that system can’t tell you did abuse it either,” Crist said.

“We are definitely pro-family and pro-child. Substantiations are only when the facts dictate,” Radke said. She said DCF is always looking for ways to improve the system, she says there will always be tension with VPRC. She points out they exist to advocate for parents, while DCF is more focused on protecting children experiencing abuse.