Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

DCFS Attorney?

I've snagged an interview for an attorney position with my s mrtor07/17/17
Juvenile work can be extremely frustrating. But you'll have thirdtierlaw07/17/17
I think your experience will depend on your jurisdiction, th jd4hire07/17/17
Yes, your points are critical about the hours. In my old sta downwardslope07/17/17
In my state this work is handled by special assistant AGs wh onehell07/17/17
I totally agree with the vast majority of this and maybe it jd4hire07/17/17
I don't want to highjack the thread, but an thoughts/feedbac wolfman07/17/17
It is extremely stressful. I had a coworker who had retired downwardslope07/17/17
It sucks, but once again, potentially good stepping stone. D onehell07/17/17
Thanks. Yeah, that's what I am hearing as well. The burnout wolfman07/17/17
I know it varies between jurisdiction, however, in my State, newjag1707/18/17
mrtor (Jul 17, 2017 - 9:36 am)

I've snagged an interview for an attorney position with my state's DCFS next week. Has any worked in a similar role, or known people who have? Obviously, this is not a truly ideal choice. However, I am in a smaller secondary market in the Midwest where government jobs are rare and I cannot move due to my spouse. The position is advertised as 8:30am-5pm, pay scale up to $120k (longer term), state benefits, pension, etc.

I'm curious to learn more about the work environment and case load. I know that DCFS social work can be grueling, overloaded, and emotionally exhausting. Is the legal side every bit as challenging? I would imagine only a small fraction of DCFS cases actually progress through the administrative tribunals and courts. Based upon the job description, I also presume it involves advocating for the state's interest instead of representing some indigent child beater. FWIW, I'm not particularly bothered by the nature of the work (at least as an outsider).

At this point, it is my only government option currently in play (SSA is a long shot).

The only other state government option I have seen in my area is with the state guardian's office, which involves guardianship and estate work on behalf of indigent people who cannot manage their affairs (not really my cup of tea). The local government options with the state's attorney and public defender offer very low starting salaries and little room for economic growth. Most of the remaining government work is farmed out to private firms. What do you guys think? Is DCFS a decent exit option out of ID?

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thirdtierlaw (Jul 17, 2017 - 10:54 am)

Juvenile work can be extremely frustrating. But you'll have it much easier because DCF does 90% of the job for you.

It does get frustrating because the cases seem to drag on forever. So even if you know it'll be on the fast track TPR, you'll still have a years worth of hearings. It can also be frustrating because a parent will be doing really well, then right before you discharge the case, they'll relaspe.

If my state didn't max out gov attorney salaries so low, I'd gladly make it a career.

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jd4hire (Jul 17, 2017 - 11:31 am)

I think your experience will depend on your jurisdiction, the case workers assigned, and the attorneys who represent the parents. My wife works in my jx agency that represents the parents who have abuse, neglect, and dependency charges brought against them. She goes against DCFS. She is definitely over worked and underpaid. You have to be able to emotionally divest yourself. That all said, she enjoys it and it qualifies for PSLF, which is why she went that route.

In my jx, many heads of state agencies related to the DCFS system came from her agency and a few have made it onto the bench in family court. She also has noted that a lot of people transfer between the agencies involved - CASA, DCFS, the local legal aid, and the public defender's office (her agency normally has one parent and the PD's family law unit has the other).

She is a union employee covered by a strong CBA and her group has amazing maternity/ paternity benefits. She has somewhat been shell shocked just by the things people do to (not a big turn off for her, but blown away by the allegations and the things people do).

The one big caveat, I'd try and figure out if the posted hours are adhered to. I know my wife could walk out right at 4:30, but she wants to do a good job for her clients (or at least the ones she feels strongly about) and often stays until 7. Her CBA has a quasi overtime comp system that helps justify her spending more time, but not entirely. Some of the attorneys don't work a minute over 35 hours and others definitely go upwards of 40 - 60. With a TPR trial, it woudl be more. That really has to do with whether you are capable of saying "screw it, I put my time in and that's all I'm doing." She's not.

In terms of pay, her CBA has a chart that spells out everyone's pay - my wife is at 67,500 and it would take a full career to get above 100k. She doesn't plan on staying forever, but for the time being she's there. She also gains a ton of courtroom experience - at least a half day in court every day.

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downwardslope (Jul 17, 2017 - 4:46 pm)

Yes, your points are critical about the hours. In my old state, I had lots of coworkers (I was in state government) who had worked in DCF or for the AG contracts that did DCF work and most of them worked well above 40 hours per week. They universally said it was awful work. They weren't able to take their vacation time, usually had to be on call on weekends/holidays in case someone got removed, etc. They complained the case workers were awful witnesses. I had one coworker who gained 60 pounds in a year, a friend who gained 30 pounds in a year. I know a lot of people who were able to move onto great positions, but it is grueling.

As an example, the head of my region in my agency worked with her counterpart at the state DCFS, who apparently had an IG complaint filed against him for creating a hostile work environment against females and minorities. He'd regularly call up my regional manager and leave her all sorts of threatening voicemails to the point where she would almost be in tears (and this is not a particularly emotional woman normally). She had to stop taking his calls and told him he would just have to leave his messages on a voicemail set up especially for him. I can't even imagining having to work in a reign of terror like that on a daily basis.

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onehell (Jul 17, 2017 - 12:40 pm)

In my state this work is handled by special assistant AGs who are assigned to DCFS.

There are essentially three assignments: Support, dependency, and delinquency.

Delinquency, of course, is a criminal prosecution of a minor which is being handled in juvie court. Dependency is when the parents are accused of abuse and neglect so the question is whether to return the kids to the parents ("reunification") or put the kid in foster care with the goal of finding someone to adopt them ("severance"). It's technically civil but it can feel a lot like a prosecution of the parent, who was oftentimes targeted unfairly due to being poor but can get their kid back if they shut up and jump through the hoops ("accept services" in their parlance).

Support, meanwhile, is debt collection. States are required to assist parents in collecting past-due child support as a condition of funding they receive under Title IV-D of the social security act, and if the parent collected any TANF (welfare), the state will pursue the noncustodial parent to be paid back for that.

My impression has been that all three of these assignments have tremendous burnout issues, so they are always hiring. The support unit combines the drudgery of debt collection with the awfulness of family court, so that's probably the worst. You are one of the most powerful creditors in existence, with all kinds of powers no other debt collector has, but you still can't squeeze blood from a stone.

Dependency/delinquency is better experience, but it's going to give you a serious case of compassion fatigue over time: These kids don't have a shot and they aren't going to have a shot no matter what you do. I have friends who took these jobs and they were keenly aware that they were just a stop on the school-to-prison pipeline. The hopelessly unqualified 20 year old social workers who are doing the removals are just as frustrating, BTW, because they are terrible witnesses. But the judges will side with you anyway, because they're terrified of a headline-making child death which could cost them in the next judicial election. Defense counsel knows this so if they're good, their main job will be to convince the parent to "accept services" in hopes of getting "reunification." So you almost always win, but no one really wins these cases. These kids have attachment disorder, autism, conduct disorder, they're way too old for anyone to be interested in adopting. If reunified they just go back to grinding poverty, and the foster care system is even worse. You burn out by simply not doing any good, and seeing so much ugliness.

That said, it was a good stepping stone to real prosecution or public defender jobs. It's one of the worst government jobs around, but it's a foot in the door and one of the few places that always seems to be hiring.

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jd4hire (Jul 17, 2017 - 5:33 pm)

I totally agree with the vast majority of this and maybe it is a difference of jurisdiction, but I know my wife's agency is full of attorneys who have spent a great deal of their legal career there.

If you can keep your head down and emotionally detach, it has some real attractive aspects as well.

And Wolfman - I would think a lot of the downsides applicable to attorneys would apply with equal force to the social workers. I don't have any insight for that, but I know my wife complains that they are difficult to work with and do not care about what they do.

As a caveat to my response relaying my impression of my wife's perspective, she's only been in her position for 6 months. She interned there for a summer, but it's not as if she's been years deep. She previously did SSDI work, so she is familiar with the socio-economic group that is most often involved.

Onehell is dead on that most of the time the parents are targeted for being too poor. Here, once you get caught up in the state's all-encompassing web, it's hard to get out. Much of what my wife deals with is things you see in households all across the spectrum, but rich people don't get flagged at the hospital for exhibiting poor parenting behavior.

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wolfman (Jul 17, 2017 - 4:51 pm)

I don't want to highjack the thread, but an thoughts/feedback on child protection caseworker as a job? This is for someone who needs work and is OK working with ghetto denizens, but isn't a trained social worker (obviously, a trained social worker could find greener pastures)... she has enough psych, etc. credits to take the city exam for this, as well as a masters in a another field...? Major metro area, agency in the news a lot, which is why they are hiring like mad.

sorry if I should've created a separate thread in off topic, but I imagine the info could also be pertinent to some JDs

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downwardslope (Jul 17, 2017 - 5:42 pm)

It is extremely stressful. I had a coworker who had retired from that job and she basically handled all the really high maintenance kids in the city. She ended up chasing them around the state/country, often over the weekends and holidays. Needless to say, there was a lot of weekend/holiday work, tons of court appearances, etc.

There are other jobs you can transition into once you do this work, if you can stick with it long enough. Targeted case management (for Medicaid recipients) is an example of an alternative type of job since they often require the same type of training, but usually there is an hands-on element that is required before you can start this position. The pay is typically much better for that since it's paid through Medicaid, but then again that might change very soon.

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onehell (Jul 17, 2017 - 7:27 pm)

It sucks, but once again, potentially good stepping stone. Doesn't pay well either, certainly not as well as a real cop even though a cop is essentially what you are being asked to be.

You do end up targeting poor people, often because poor people call CPS on one another, for revenge in a neighbor dispute or to try and gain a leg up in a custody dispute, etc. They don't pull that in the suburbs.

But the law usually requires that every report gets a full investigation. And you're under a lot of pressure to do more removals. If a kid dies on a case you marked "unsubstantiated" then the media will cover it and some very high-up heads will roll. So when in doubt, burden of proof be damned, you remove. This goes against everything they teach you in social work classes by the way, but these jobs are highly politicized even at the front-line level.

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wolfman (Jul 17, 2017 - 8:59 pm)

Thanks. Yeah, that's what I am hearing as well. The burnout rate is high too, thus the hiring sprees.

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newjag17 (Jul 18, 2017 - 2:17 pm)

I know it varies between jurisdiction, however, in my State, many of the larger counties assign the DA's Office to representing DCFS. I was both a misdemeanor and felony trial prosecutor before voluntarily transferring into the unit responsible for DCFS cases. I actually have really enjoyed it--to me, its a combination of criminal, family, juvenile, and admin law rolled up into one. Yes, there are a ton of cases and honestly you see the worst parts of humanity on a daily basis, however, we see a lot of positive endings for the children. You gain a ton of litigation experience that would translate into other agencies or even private practice not to mention mediation. Additionally, I've dealt with policy issues if that's something you enjoy. When I applied to JAG Reserves, my FSO (interviewer) really liked that I had represented a large bureaucracy with high volume. Our Unit actually has very low turnover (many of the attorneys have turned down opps to transfer out or go back to mainstream prosecution).
There are frustrations and challenges like any government legal assignment, but in my opinion and experience, there are a lot of positives.

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