Orlando DCF Attorney – Dependency Cases
Florida law requires child abuse, child neglect, and abandonment to be reported to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).
It is a crime not to report suspected child abuse, child neglect, or abandonment. Reporters of suspected abuse, neglect, or abandonment may be relatives, neighbors, teachers, daycare workers, and health care workers.
Shelter & Removal of Children by DCF
DCF may try to “shelter” a child, which means to remove a child from the custody of a parent or other legal caregiver if DCF believes there is imminent risk of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. DCF often shelters children if parents use drugs in the presence of a child or if parents are involved in domestic violence in the presence of a child. DCF also commonly shelters children in cases of excessive corporal punishment, e.g. spanking, and cases where health care is not timely provided to a child. DCF may shelter a child even if the state attorney’s office does not ultimately file criminal charges or the related criminal case is dismissed due to lack of evidence.
Assume the Burden is Always on You!
Sometimes innocent events are reported as abuse, neglect, or abandonment. For example, if a child were to break an arm or a leg without other witnesses present that could verify the absence of abuse, a health care worker may report the injury to the DCF as abuse. The burden for DCF to remove a child from parents is relatively low. The burden of persuasion in an investigation often shifts to the parent to prove that no abuse occurred.
Know Your Parental Rights – or Lose Them
DCF investigations of abuse, neglect, or abandonment include special issues. The identity of the reporter is confidential, which limits a parent’s ability to address possible motive, bias, or credibility of the reporter. The police may threaten to take a child into custody unless a parent makes a statement or otherwise cooperates with the police in a criminal case. DCF may try to force one parent to testify against the other parent or a boyfriend or girlfriend. DCF may pressure one parent to file an injunction against the other parent or a boyfriend or girlfriend. DCF may try to question a child outside the presence of parents, relatives, or custodians.
It is important to understand your rights when DCF shelters a child in a dependency case. Don’t expect DCF to advocate on your behalf or otherwise ensure that you are able to exercise your parental rights in a dependency case.
Private Dependency Petitions
A private dependency petition is a judicial dependency case that is filed by someone other than DCF. Private dependency petitions are often filed by the extended family of the parents, although anyone with knowledge of the facts supporting dependency may file a dependency petition. Private dependency petitions are normally filed when DCF fails to take timely action to investigate or remedy abuse allegations.
Private dependency petitions may become more common due to recent “Transformation Training” undertaken by DCF attorneys in 2014. Transformation training appears to be an effort to discourage DCF attorneys from opening judicial cases and instead to promote out-of-court voluntary services. The practical result, and perhaps the goal, of this approach, seems to be to reduce the number of judicial cases for which DCF is responsible. DCF saves money from having to process judicial cases and is relieved from more strict accountability that is part of the judicial process.
DeVoe Law Firm has experience filing private dependency petitions and fighting private dependency petitions.
Get a Legal Strategy
An attorney can explain defenses, applicable burdens of proof, and the legal process in a dependency case. A dependency attorney can advise you about the consequences of entering a denial or consent. A dependency attorney can help you with legal issues involving case plan compliance, placement, custody, visitation, timesharing, child support, reunification, and permanency in a dependency case. DeVoe Law Firm can provide you with the cost-effective representation you need to understand and defend your parental rights in your juvenile dependency case. Call 407-284-1620 for more information.