Child Protective Investigations
Parents have a vested interest in how well their children turn out. Are they successful? Are they happy? Do they make the world a better place? These are questions all parents ask themselves at some point. In order for a parent to have an influence on the person his/her child becomes, the parent must guide and exert some measure of control over the child. Intervention by the state, unfortunately, rips away this control and influence when a child protective investigation is launched. These investigations are an aspect of dependency cases, which are filed against a parent when child abuse, neglect, or abandonment is alleged. The investigation is the first step in a dependency action, and is typically triggered when someone calls the hotline operated by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
A recent example of circumstances that prompted the state to remove children from their parents’ custody occurred in Miami. The family was found in their car in the early morning by firefighters; the parents were unconscious, and the children were hungry and soiled. While this case appears to show neglect, the important point is the state is looking for signs that children are failing to thrive.
DCF is the agency that conducts the child protective investigations, and plays a big role in whether a child is reunited with a parent. Understanding the purpose and process of child protective investigations is integral to a parent getting their child back.
Initiating the Investigation
As stated above, most investigations start when a call is to made the state child abuse hotline alleging a child is suffering abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Law enforcement and DCF investigators often work together to respond to a report, especially if a crime is alleged. Consequently, a parent facing allegations of child abuse or the like may receive visits from both police and the DCF investigator related to a report. How quickly someone is sent to respond to a report depends on whether there are concerns about the life and safety of the child. If the child’s life is potentially in danger, an investigator must attempt to make face-to-face contact with the child within four hours of receiving the assignment. In all other situations, investigators have 24 hours to attempt the first contact. Once this initial connection is made, the investigator immediately begins to assess the situation to determine the correct course of action.
In order to decide if the state needs to take the child into custody, the investigator conducts a family function evaluation by interviewing the child, parents, and other members of the household. The investigator uses the interviews to gather information to both corroborate the allegations reported to DCF, and to observe the dynamics of the family. The overall purpose of these conversations is to calculate whether there is any present danger to the child. It is important to note that these interviews are conducted with each person individually, so a parent would not be present when the DCF investigator speaks with the child. Examples of behavior considered dangerous and warranting removal of the child include:
- the child suffered a serious injury, and the parent does not know what happened;
- the parent fails to keep up a necessary medical regimen or seek medical treatment;
- the child displays signs of serious emotional disturbance, such as the child self-injures, sets fires, or is addicted to alcohol or drugs;
- there is a lack of basic essentials; and
- the parent says the family’s situation is hopeless.
In addition to removing the child, the investigator may require the presence of another adult to manage the dangerous situation, or require certain individuals leave the home to mitigate the danger posed to the child.
Get Help from a Florida Family Law Attorney
Facing a dependency case and the possible loss of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Do not try to deal with this situation alone. The laws in this area are very complex, and an experienced family law attorney can help you navigate this process. The Fort Lauderdale law office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. understands the seriousness of this situation, and will work to reunite you with your child. Contact the office for a free consultation.