I’m a good parent, but someone has called the Department of Children and Families and filed a report against me. What do I do?
First, keep calm. The goal of the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) is to ensure children are safe from abuse, neglect or abandonment while doing everything they can to keep families together. Therefore, when a call is made to the Florida Abuse Hotline claiming that a child is being abused, neglected or abandoned, the Abuse Hotline Counselor has to determine if the information received meets criteria to be accepted and assigned to a child protective investigator (“CPI”). Once a call is made, Florida law requires the child protective investigator to determine if any child in your home has been harmed.
Second, keep in mind that many times a false report is filed to gain an advantage in a family law divorce or paternity matter. DCF is well aware of those situations and if there is no harm, the investigation will in all likelihood be closed without any findings of abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Third and last, follow the top five suggestions to ensure your rights are protected:
- Be responsive and respectful to the investigator, case manager and guardian ad litem. Your lack of cooperation can cause other problems. Make sure you ask and write down the name and contact information for everyone involved so that you can stay informed of the progress of the case.
- Mark your calendar for 60 days after the initial call was placed. That is because after 60 days you have the right to request a written copy of the report rendered by the DCF investigator. You need to be informed in order to properly defend yourself.
- Gather the names, contact numbers and email addresses of those witnesses that would offer favorable observations as to your parenting for the investigator and/or case manager. While you may want to list family members, DCF would prefer to hear from neutral professionals such as teachers, daycare workers and doctors.
- If you have a family law attorney you should immediately advise him/her of the report as dependency court is an entirely different division with different rules and deadlines. Also, visitation restrictions in dependency will affect your timesharing in family court. If the initial investigation leads to a case in dependency, hire an experienced dependency attorney. It is important that you understand and fully participate in the process of determining what activities must be completed before your child can come home. You need an attorney that knows how to navigate the challenges of dependency court to accomplish reunification goals. If you cannot afford one, one may be appointed to you.
- If classes are offered by DCF to help you parent, take them. DCF is always concerned with parents that believe they do not need any help. Parenting can be challenging. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve on your skills.