The removal of your children following an allegation of child abuse is one of the worst things a parent can experience. Once you get past the trauma of seeing your child taken away by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and realize your family is now part of a dependency investigation, you then have to figure what comes next and what the quickest way is to get your child back. A recent news report from a Southwest Florida CBS affiliate looks at unsuccessful efforts by DCF to remove two children from a man who authorities believe is somehow involved in the murder of his wife.
The judge held the dangers to his children alleged by DCF were completely speculative and lacked any grounding in actual events, and therefore did not justify removal. The story also noted the person designated by the father to act as caregiver if he was arrested was rejected for having a past report of sexual abuse.
Laws Pertaining to Placement of Children
This rejection of the caregiver relates to a law that is triggered if a child remains a dependent of the state following a judicial hearing and limits with whom a dependent child may be placed based on a person’s criminal history, including a parent’s past behavior. An overview of the background checks and the types of offenses that would exclude a person from caring for a dependent child will appear below as it could affect a parent’s selection of temporary caregiver.
Who is Subject to Background Check?
DCF is required to run two types of background checks on every person over the age of 12 living in a household where a dependent child could be placed, including parents. The first check with the State Automated Child Welfare Information System is looking for any past involvement in a child welfare case. The second check is at least a statewide criminal background check, but it could also include sending fingerprints to the FBI to run a more comprehensive background check and could be extended to anyone over the age of 18 living in or visiting the home where the dependent child would be placed. These background checks are used to evaluate the potential danger to a child and heavily factor into DCF’s decision.
DCF is prohibited from placing a child with anyone other than a parent if that person was convicted of any of the following offenses:
- child abuse, abandonment or neglect;
- domestic violence;
- child pornography; or
- homicide, sexual battery or other violent felonies.
Further, a person is not eligible to serve as caretaker for a dependent child if that person was convicted of any of the following felony offenses within the past five years:
- battery; or
- a drug-related offense.
Anyone being considered for placement is also obligated to inform DCF about any past or currently pending criminal cases against them.
Challenging Denial of Placement
Florida law permits a court to review a decision by DCF on child placement following a motion filed by any party, a request by the person denied or the court’s own motion. If the person denied placement wants to challenge that decision, the burden is on that person to show no danger is posed to the child based on rehabilitative efforts made to correct past behaviors. The types of evidence a court would consider when evaluating whether the denial was proper include:
- circumstances of the incident that led to the denial;
- how much time has passed since the incident;
- the type of harm the victim received;
- whether the victim was a child; and
- the person’s history since the incident occurred.
Ask for Help
If you are a parent of child taken away by the State, it is important to retain legal representation as soon as possible in order to protect your parental rights and get your child back quickly. Stok Kon + Braverman in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach has extensive experience representing parents involved in dependency cases. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation.