Dependency and the Department of Children and Families

One of the most stressful situations a parent can face is a visit by the Department of Children and Families. The Department of Children and Families is the largest agency in Florida and is charged with investigating and protecting children from child abuse, neglect, and abandonment. The DCF motto is “Protect the vulnerable, promote strong and economically self-sufficient families, and advance personal and family recovery and resiliency.” Practically speaking, this means that involvement by the Department of Children and Families in your family’s life can result in the loss of custody and even termination of your parental rights to your children.

The Department of Children and Families has a duty to investigate any report made about the safety or welfare of your child(ren). The protective investigator has to determine whether or not your child(ren) had been or would be in immediate danger of being abused, neglected, or abandoned. If the investigator does not feel that your child(ren) can safely stay at home – even with helpful services being provided – then your child(ren) will be placed in foster care. The investigation then proceeds further. If it is found that your child(ren) can safely return to you – with or without services in your home for your child’s safety – then your child(ren) will be returned to you. If, however, it is determined that it is not safe for your child(ren) to return to you, then the case can be heard in Juvenile Dependency Court.

Juvenile Dependency Court’s charge is to ensure the safety of your child(ren). The hope is that families will get the help they need to be able to stay together. The Court does not handle criminal charges, and files are confidential and not open to the public. Dependency cases usually have one of the following outcomes.

After both sides have been given the chance to state their cases, the judge will make a determination. If the State did not present evidence to show that your child(ren) should not be returned to you, then your child(ren) will be returned to your care.

If you are in agreement that services could be helpful in your situation or if the Court feels that outside services are necessary before your child(ren) can come home, then you will work on a “case plan” to outline steps you will need to take in order to ensure that your child(ren) will come to a safe and stable environment. If you follow the plan and complete its requirements, your child(ren) will be returned to your care.

If the Court finds that the home situation is not safe, or if you refuse to follow the case plan and complete its requirements, then your rights as a parent can be permanently terminated. Your child(ren) can be placed for adoption.

During Dependency Court proceedings, you have the right to
  • Hire an attorney or have one appointed. The Department of Children and Families will be represented by an attorney. So should you.
  • Be notified of all court hearings.
  • Be present at all court hearings.
  • See copies of any DCF or Guardian ad Litem reports pertaining to your case.
  • Receive services to help you get your child(ren) back.
  • Be made aware of any costs for services.
  • Be consulted about medical treatment and travel.
  • Keep in contact with and have visitation unless otherwise ordered by the Court.

You also have a responsibility to continue to provide financial support for your child(ren) during Dependency Court proceedings. The Court or the Department of Revenue will assess your ability to pay and will determine how much you are to pay to support your child(ren).

Parker & DuFresne, P.A. serves clients in Duval, St. Johns, Clay, and Nassau counties. If you are dealing with child dependency or DCF issues, it is imperative that you be pro-active in seeking the legal advice and representation of an experienced Parker & DuFresne, P.A. attorney as soon as possible. Waiting to do so could negatively impact your ability to achieve a positive resolution to the matter. Protect your legal rights by contacting Parker & DuFresne, P. A. at 904.733.7766 or at http://www.jaxlawcenter.com to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At Parker & DuFresne, P.A., our skilled family law attorneys are ready to represent and protect your interests during child dependency proceedings.

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