While every state is slightly different, the basic law is as follows. If there is an allegation of abuse or neglect against a parent, then the department is required by law to investigate the validity of that cause within 24 hours. In that time, it is determined if there is enough evidence to proceed with a full investigation. At this point, the evidence could certainly be circumstantial. The department has to take allegations seriously, and any suggested evidence of abuse followed up on.
The full investigation is completed within 30 days. During this time, if the department feels that the child is in harm's ways, then an "Ex Parte" custody order is issued. This order, in brief, states as follows:
- If the court is convinced that probable cause exists, it may grant the motion and issue an order directing that the child be placed, or remain, in the legal custody of the department.
So, to answer your question, the department does have some power to temporarily remove a child from a home based on allegations and circumstantial evidence. This removal is for the duration of the investigation. At the end of the investigation, definitive proof of abuse/neglect must be documented, and a court must rule on the continued removal of the child. See the links below for more information: