Things to Know about Drugs and Child Welfare Investigations
Hearing a knock at the door, followed by accusations of child abuse or endangerment by a state official, is easily a parent’s worst nightmare. Reports of child abuse and neglect are commonly left anonymously, and unfortunately, may represent attempts at retaliation or harassment. One type of accusation that is almost guaranteed to initiate an investigation by the Department of Children and Families Services (DCFS) involves parental drug use. The last thing a parent wants is a full-fledged dependency case, and refusing to consent to a drug test, a demand that will be made, is sure to raise suspicion. However, parents do have a choice, and understanding the consequences of each option is important information parents facing accusations of drug use should know. An overview of the pros and cons of consenting or refusing a drug test request from DCFS, as well as the next step in the dependency process, if it moves forward, will follow below.
Yes or No to a Drug Test?
First, a parent should know that, absent a court order, he/she is fully within his/her rights to refuse the drug test. However, the probable result of the refusal is that DCFS will continue with the investigation, which typically means seeking to remove the child from the home. DCFS views parental drug use as evidence of behavior that puts the child’s welfare at risk, and will react to mitigate the perceived harm. Thus, agreeing to the testing, if the parent is confident the results will be negative, may prompt DCFS to decide that no grounds exist to continue and terminate further investigation. If, on the other hand, the parent is unsure of the results, or feels the request is unwarranted and wants to refuse, consultation with an experienced family law attorney to assess the situation and protect parental rights should be the next step.
Removing the Child/Shelter Hearings
The law authorizes DCFS to remove a child from a home if the investigator finds evidence of child abuse, neglect or abandonment, or danger of the child experiencing harm of this type. This is referred as “sheltering” the child, and involves placing the child in the temporary protective custody of DCFS. When a child is in this situation, DCFS can place the child with the other parent or an adult relative, which is preferred, or with a licensed shelter if no other adult is available. If a child is removed, DCFS must initiate court proceedings immediately by filing a petition for a shelter hearing. This court hearing must be conducted within 24 hours of removal if the child is not placed with a relative. Parents have a right to be notified about the hearing and to appear and give testimony and evidence about DCFS’s allegations. Importantly, parents have the right to legal counsel in all phases of a dependency case, including the shelter hearing, and can ask the court to delay the hearing for 72 hours in order to get an attorney. The child cannot remain in a shelter past the 24-hour mark without a court order stating that removal is necessary to the child’s safety and the implementation of available services, such as parenting classes or drug treatment, is not sufficient to protect the child’s welfare. This determination is made at the shelter hearing, and if DCFS does not present enough evidence to justify removal, the child must be released to the parent. This hearing is, in effect, the gateway to the dependency process, so having a lawyer at this juncture can greatly influence what happens going forward.
Talk to a Family Law Attorney
Losing custody of your child is devastating, regardless of how long or short it may be. Dependency actions bring the potential for the complete loss of all parental rights, so a family law attorney experienced in this area should be consulted as soon as possible. Attorney Joyce A. Julian, P.A. will fight to make sure your interests are heard. We represent clients in the Fort Lauderdale area; contact the office for a free consultation.