Persons who have been identified as having abused or neglected a child by the Department of Children’s Services have a right to disagree.

The First Step in an Appeal

A Formal File Review is the initial form of due process or the first step of the appeal process when an individual disagrees with being named as a perpetrator of child abuse or child neglect. The review is an internal review of the case file and evidence obtained during the course of the investigation.

If you have been named as a perpetrator of child abuse or child neglect, the Department will make diligent attempts to provide you with written notice of the outcome of the investigation.  To receive this notice, it is crucial that the Department has your current physical address.  This notice includes instructions on how to exercise your right to request a Formal File Review or appeal.  For further information, please contact the Division of Due Process Procedures at (615) 532-9593. 

 The Division of Due Process Procedures offers a first level of appeal, also known as formal file review, for individuals who have been substantiated for abuse or neglect. This formal file review and objective analysis is important because the Department is required, under certain circumstances, to release the identity of a substantiated perpetrator of abuse to any agency or organization providing direct care or supervision of children.

If you are seeking information about an individual’s Child Protective Services history and would like to request search results, please read the records history check page.

If your substantiation was upheld at the Formal File Review, you may have further appeal or due process opportunities. Individuals requesting a Formal File Review will receive the results of the review by written notice.  Further information about the review and next steps in the appeal process are included in the notice that details the review results.

DCS uses the term due process to refer to your appeal options after having been substantiated as a perpetrator of child abuse or child neglect.  There are two levels of appeal you may be entitled to.  The first is the formal file review.  If the substantiation is upheld at the formal file review, you may have the opportunity to exercise a second appeal, this time to the Department’s Administrative Procedures Division, where you will have an administrative hearing in front of an Administrative Judge.  The process of requesting an administrative hearing is described below.

At the conclusion of the Formal File Review process, you will be given notice of the decision. If you are eligible for a hearing, you will receive written notification which will include a Request for Administrative Hearing form.  Please complete the form and send it to the Administrative Procedures Division (mailing instructions included with the form).

If you do not agree with the decision issued by the Administrative Judge, you have several options for appeal.  First, you can request that the Judge reconsider their decision.  Next, you can appeal to the Commissioner of DCS requesting that they overturn the decision.  The next step is to file an appeal for judicial review.  This appeal can be filed in chancery court either in the county where you reside or in Davidson County, the official residence of the Commissioner of DCS.  You can obtain a review of the decision of the Chancery Court by appeal to the court of appeals.

You are not required to have an attorney, but you have the right to be represented by counsel.  However, unlike juvenile court or criminal court, in Administrative Hearings there are no court appointed attorneys which means no one will be appointed to represent you at no or a reduced cost.  However, there are law firms that provide pro bono representation and representation on a sliding scale fee.  Additionally, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services provides statewide legal assistance programs.  You may also want to contact your local legal aid office to see if they might take your case.

Please read the Frequently Asked Questions page, which may help to answer other questions.