No parent wants to experience the frustrating and emotional process of an investigation by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) into allegations of child abuse or neglect, but recent changes in the investigative method of DCF investigators is information that may be helpful to parents who have the unfortunate task of defending themselves and securing the return of a child if an investigation is initiated. As reported in the Orlando Sentinel, child-welfare investigators, in response to the increase of child deaths in families who had previous contact with DCF, have new investigative protocols that require faster response times and new screening guidelines to determine if a child should be removed from the home. The result of this new approach is a sharp increase in the number of children entering the foster system while dependency cases are decided. Given that the skill of child-welfare investigators varies widely, it is important for parents dealing with an investigation of this type to know what new factors an investigator now takes into account to ensure the proper procedure is being followed, and if not, whether their rights are being violated as a result.New Changes to the DCF Investigation Process
Under the new procedures:
- Families involved with DCF in the preceding 12 months who receive new allegations of abuse or neglect will be visited by an investigation team within two business days.
- A preliminary report of the investigators’ findings must be published on the agency’s website within 30 days outlining why the child was returned or left with the family.
- Investigators are now required to assess in all cases the likelihood something similar could happen again.
Some of the factors investigators are instructed to evaluate include:
- The functioning of the adults in the family in relation to life management skills, self-control, employment and criminal histories.
- The stability of current relationships
- How the adults act on a daily basis. An evaluation of this type is highly subjective and requires an investigator to make assumptions using limited information. Because this analysis is so speculative, it may be easier to challenge its validity in court potentially leading to a faster resolution of the dependency case in the parents’ favor.
In a child dependency investigation, the subject of the investigation, i.e., the parent, is entitled to certain information once an investigation is initiated. The investigator is required by Florida law to supply the parents with the following information:
- The names and agency credentials of all investigators
- What they are investigating
- The right to obtain an attorney
- How any information from the parent may be used against them
- The possible outcomes of the investigation
- The parent’s right to substantial involvement in order to determine what is being alleged against them and potential remedies to identified problems
- The parent’s duty to report a change in address or location of the child until the investigation is concluded.
- Parents also have the right to appointed counsel for the duration of the case if they are unable to privately retain an attorney.
- Investigations are expected to conclude within 60 days of the initial reported allegation.
- If an investigation extends beyond 60 days the court may accelerate reunification if the child was removed from the home.
A child dependency case is a complex and emotional process that needs the knowledge and experience of an attorney familiar with the law to reunite the family as quickly as possible. Although the court will appoint an attorney if necessary, a court-appointed lawyer will have many cases to juggle at the same time and consequently be unable to give the time and attention you need and deserve to resolve this case in your favor. Stok Kon + Braverman in Fort Lauderdale can provide your family this necessary attention and should be contacted today for a free and confidential consultation.