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What Happens When a Child Is Removed from the Home?

Having a child taken away by state authorities after receiving a report of abuse or neglect is one of the worst things that can happen to a parent. Having police knock on the door asking personal and accusatory questions is bound to upset and alarm any parent.

While the child protective investigator is required by law to inform parents under investigation about the accusations being made against them and their rights in child dependency cases, this information does not answer the most important question weighing on these parents – where is the child being taken, and when will he or she be seen again? Most parents do not respond well to losing control over their child, and when that authority is taken away from the outside, it is emotionally distressing.

A recent news story from the Tampa Bay Times looked at the high removal rate of children in Hillsborough County by protective investigators compared to other counties. Hillsborough has the highest removal rate in the state, which leaves the child welfare system overwhelmed, and results in children waiting for reunification with parents or other permanent placement for long periods of time much to the detriment of the child. To help parents cope with this stressful and confusing situation, below is an overview of what happens immediately following the removal of a child from the home.

Release of the Child

When law enforcement officers and agents from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) arrive to remove a child, the removal is based on the perceived existence of any of the following circumstances:

  • the child was abused, neglected, or abandoned, or is in imminent danger of abuse, neglect or abandonment;
  • the parent or guardian violated the terms of the court’s existing placement order; or
  • the child has no parent, legal custodian, or responsible adult relative immediately known and available to care for the child.

At this point, law enforcement or DCF representatives typically look for a relative to take temporary custody, and will release the child to any of the following parties:

  • a non-offending parent or legal custodian;
  • a responsible adult approved by the court to take custody in emergency situations;
  • a responsible adult relative or adoptive parents of a sibling; or
  • another responsible adult approved by DCF.

While it may seem like officials should be able to find someone to temporarily take a child in most situations, the reality is usually complicated. Release of children will not be authorized to individuals who reside in homes with anyone having a criminal record.

Further, if a family moved to the state or an area without family, there may not be anyone else willing and/or available to take on this responsibility. In these situations, DCF must find a non-relative placement, typically a foster home or shelter, to house the child during the investigation. Placing a child with a non-relative triggers the need for a shelter hearing, which occurs in front of a judge within 24 hours of the child’s removal.

Shelter Hearings

The purpose of a shelter hearing is for the court to determine if the removal of the child was proper based on the circumstances alleged by law enforcement or DCF. This hearing must occur within 24 hours of the removal of the child, and DCF must make all reasonable efforts to notify the parents about when and where the hearing will take place.

Parents have the right the right to speak at these hearings and to have attorneys represent them. A judge must determine that removal was necessary to ensure the child’s safety, even if intervention or prevention services were offered. The child will not be returned until the danger is removed. However, courts will typically allow some type of contact with the child within the first 72 hours of removal, and will direct DCF to work towards reunification, if possible.

Talk to a Family Law Attorney

Facing a dependency case that carries the possibility that your parental rights could be terminated is a terrifying proposition. These cases are extremely complicated, and given what is at stake, you need an experienced family law attorney to fully protect and represent your interests. The Fort Lauderdale law office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. has years of experience in these cases, and is ready to fight for your parental rights. Contact the office to schedule a consultation.

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