CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee(WDEF) - The Tennessee Department of Child and Family Services is updating its policy on removing children from abusive parents and it's a move that's causing controversy.
Under the updated DCS policy, case workers will only be able to immediately remove a child from a suspected abusive parent if the child is in imminent danger. But that authority now has limits if there's no blatant proof of child abuse.
"Sometimes you can have suspicion that we need to check out. Sometimes the evidence and the circumstances before you are crystal clear. Sometimes, they're not," said DCS communications director Rob Johnson.
If it's not a crystal clear situation, case workers will have to go before a judge to present their case as to why they believe the child should be removed. Juvenile court judge Robert Philyaw is against that policy.
"The steps that that I've heard being implemented now are overboard and there must be a way to get children out of dangerous situations immediately. We can't leave children in certain situations until we can run down to the court house and get a court order," Philyaw said.
The policy change came as result of a federal appeals court ruling that said case workers had to abide by the fourth amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures of property without a warrant; identifying children as property.
"The case talks about equating the taking of children as a seizure of something that belongs to someone and of course children aren't property," said the judge.
Prior to the ruling, state case workers could decide on their own to remove a child. Tennessee DCS is now forcing itself to work within a confined area of the law.
"Parents have rights. You have to balance the children and the families needs against the states desire to protect children and you have to be real careful about that," Johnson said.
The state is also trying to keep itself out of trouble because the wrong action by a case worker could lead to a major lawsuit.