Dependency And The Dangers Of The Foster Care System
Any parent, if asked, would admit, without hesitation, that parenting is easily the most difficult task they will ever face. The difficulties of parenting are counterbalanced with the joy of seeing one’s child grow and develop into a unique individual. However, this dynamic can be swiftly and severely interrupted if the State opens a dependency case against a parent, which can result in the removal of the child from the home. When a child becomes a dependent of the State, he/she is considered a ward of the government, because the parents are viewed as incapable of providing the child with a safe and supportive home. Such claims are not always legitimate, but the potential consequences for the parent and child can be devastating. Consequently, it is imperative an experienced dependency attorney be consulted about how to respond and work through the complicated and slow-moving dependency system. One of the worst scenarios for a child is to be removed from the parent’s care and placed in the foster care system. Children in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties are routinely shifted from place to place and are not provided sufficient mental health services to address their needs. This situation prompted a children’s advocacy group to file a class action lawsuit against the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) over the inadequate care. A discussion of the factors used to decide how children will be housed during a pending dependency action, and how to challenge DCF requests to remove the child, will follow below.
Petition for Removal
DCF is charged with investigating and managing cases of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment, and if an investigative representative from the agency believes the child has already experienced or is in imminent danger of receiving this type of treatment, he/she will file a petition with court seeking removal. A hearing on this issue must be held within 48 hours of the child’s removal, giving parents reeling from the shock of these allegations little time to secure legal representation. At the hearing, the DCF and the parent, or the parent’s counsel, will have the opportunity to present their arguments for or against removal, and the judge will have to decide if the home situation is sufficiently dangerous to warrant taking the child out the environment, and placing him/her with a responsible relative, or if not available, a State facility or vetted foster home. With the right attorney, it is possible to keep the child in the home by removing the dangerous element and following the safety plan established by DCF. However, in other instances, it is necessary to challenge the validity of the case entirely.
Fighting the Request
DCF is obligated to prove that removal of the child is necessary, and must present evidence that probable cause exists to justify this step. Probable cause is a legal standard that says reasonable suspicion exists, supported by the circumstances, that the suspected wrongful activity probably occurred. Further, DCF must also show that the provision of available services and support are insufficient to protect the child from neglect, abuse, or abandonment. This includes efforts to prevent and eliminate removal. As in all cases involving a child’s welfare, whether it be for a dependency action or a child custody order, the best interests of the child are paramount. Thus, when challenging the validity of removal, an experienced lawyer could attack the existence of probable cause, efforts by DCF to avoid removal, or that the best interests of the child are served by removing the child from the home. Consequently, picking the right attorney is key to the obtaining the best possible outcome.
Experiencing the removal of a child based on allegations of abuse, neglect, or abandonment is devastating for any family. You must fight these legal actions strongly and from the very start to avoid more severe consequences and to increase the odds of reunification with your child. The attorneys at the Fort Lauderdale law firm Joyce A. Julian, P.A. have decades of experience helping parents challenge these petitions, and are ready to help you get your family back. Contact us today for a free consultation.