Essential Information For Navigating A Dependency Case
Parents strive to protect and care for their children to the fullest extent possible, but this can be completely upset by the dynamics of a dependency case. Dependency cases are typically instigated by reports of suspected abuse, abandonment or neglect, and generally involve the state usurping a parent’s rights over the child’s physical care and supervision until a court deems it safe to return care back to the parent. While the Department of Children and Families (DCF) purports to only act in the child’s best interests, parents often feel they are presumed guilty and viewed as perpetually unfit to regain full parental rights regardless of the steps taken to comply with the DCF demands. Dependencies frequently start quickly in terms of removing the child from the home, but then move disconcertingly slow for purposes of reunification. Unfortunately, the dependency system puts parents at a distinct disadvantage if they do not have an experienced attorney at their side. The rules that govern how these cases proceed are quite complex, and without an attorney, most parents are in the dark about many key components that ultimately decide their family’s future. A discussion of the essential information parents battling dependency actions need in order to have a basic grasp of the legal and practical consequences of these cases will follow below.
Dependency Cases Are Not Criminal Charges
In the wake of law enforcement showing up at the door to investigate, and possibly remove the child from the home, parents understandably feel they are being bombarded with accusations of illegal conduct. However, dependency actions are not criminal prosecutions, and cannot result in a parent being sent to jail or receiving another type of punishment. Regardless of how DCF representatives may act, the purpose of a dependency case is to protect a child’s physical, mental and emotional welfare, and not to punish the parent for criminal wrongdoing.
When Law Enforcement Acts
One of the most pressing concerns parents in dependency have, outside getting their child back home as soon as possible, is how the investigation started in the first place. Dependency investigations start when someone files a report with law enforcement or DCF about suspected abuse, neglect or abandonment. Evidence of these circumstances is required before the government can remove a child from the parent’s home. However, an important point to note is an investigation may be underway before a parent has any idea there is a problem. DCF investigators and/or law enforcement may start preliminary questioning at a child’s school or childcare facility without notifying the parent, which puts him/her at a disadvantage from the start. Importantly, regardless of the representations DCF representatives make, they are not a parent’s friend or looking out for their interests. They are only concerned with what they perceive to be the child’s best interests, which may or may not be accurate. Hiring a dependency attorney at the outset of these cases allows the attorney to assert the parent’s rights and interests with the court early in the process, and hopefully mitigate unnecessary restrictions.
Case managers are the primary government representatives involved with the day-to-day oversight of dependency cases. Case plans outline the environmental, social and personal changes a parent must make before reunification will be considered, and case managers are charged with monitoring progress of the case plan, and reporting compliance to the court. However, case managers often claim a parent must agree to their demands from the outset, but they do not have authority to order a parent to do anything without consent or a court order. Thus, until a case plan is agreed upon, or a judge issues an order, a parent is free to decline a case manager’s request for psychological testing, drug testing, parenting classes and the like.
Consult a Florida Dependency Attorney
Losing control over your child is a parent’s worst nightmare, and calls for quick action to minimize the time it takes to reunite with your child. Joyce A. Julian, P.A. helps parents in the Fort Lauderdale area navigate the complex dependency proceedings, and understands what is at stake in this situation. Contact the law firm for a free consultation, and learn how these compassionate attorneys can help you regain your child.