How to Avoid Ending Up in Court With Connecticut DCF

How to Avoid Ending Up in Court With Connecticut DCF

When the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) gets involved in your life, you’re probably in for a long ordeal. This is a state agency that is known for inserting itself into the lives of families, sometimes without reason or justification.

Unfortunately, DCF has the power to interview your children, invade your privacy, and even remove children from your home. If you want to avoid ending up in court with the Connecticut DCF, here are a few things you should consider in your dealings with the agency.

How DCF Investigations Begin

DCF can open an investigation into your family if they suspect abuse or neglect. While the agency might have good intentions, the actions it takes can create long-lasting damage to children and the bonds they have with parents.

People call in anonymous reports to DCF daily. Some professionals, like teachers, police officers, and doctors, are required to report any suspicions of abuse or neglect to the agency. This can result in many reports based on little evidence and even misunderstandings of fact.

When DCF receives one of these calls, they’ll show up at your door unannounced. It’s important to understand that you don’t have to invite DCF into your home, and you can ask them to return later after you’ve had the opportunity to speak with a lawyer.

It Is Important to Understand the “Why” of Any DCF Requests

DCF has 45 days to complete its initial investigation. The DCF caseworker might visit a family multiple times during the period and make a number of requests. Some of those requests might include that you:

  • Sign a safety plan
  • Attend counseling sessions
  • Get substance abuse treatment
  • Go to parenting classes

First, you don’t have to sign a safety plan or service agreement presented to you by a DCF caseworker. While cooperating with DCF is a good idea, it’s also important that you protect your legal and parental rights. Having an attorney review any documents before you sign them is an excellent idea.

Beyond agreeing to get counseling, treatment, or any other services that DCF is requesting, it’s essential that you understand the “why” behind the request. Specifically, you should find out what DCF’s concerns are about your home situation so that you can address those instead of going down a list and checking boxes on a form. If you don’t understand the “why” behind the request, you run into the danger of a prolonged and contentious relationship with DCF and a lengthy court battle.

When Following DCF Instructions Isn’t Enough

Signing a Safety Plan or Service Agreement with DCF creates a binding legal agreement with the agency. And it’s challenging for you to alter the terms of the agreement in the future. But DCF will have no issue in asking you to agree to much more than was listed in the original plan.

It would be a mistake to believe that your relationship with the agency will be over after just 45 days. Assuming you agree to cooperate with DCF and get services, DCF can continue to ask for more. After the initial investigation period is closed, the agency can continue to visit your home weekly to check on your children and require that you submit to various services.

Provided DCF feels that abuse or neglect has occurred, the agency can file a Neglect Petition or Order for Temporary Custody of your children to remove them from the home.

Avoid Ending Up In Court With DCF Through Strong Legal Counsel

Unfortunately, once DCF gets involved in your life, they are likely to stay involved until they close their case. And this generally doesn’t happen without some pushback from the parents.

You can often avoid ending up in court by having a strong legal advocate in your corner that will assert your rights as well as diplomatically communicate with DCF caseworkers to find out what the concerns are behind the initial investigation. If you and your attorney can quickly address the underlying concerns, you may be able to avoid a request for services and a visit in front of the judge.

Speak With a Qualified Connecticut DCF Defense Attorney

If you learn that you are under investigation by DCF for suspected child abuse or neglect, or already have DCF involved in your life, you should contact our experienced Connecticut DCF defense attorney as soon as possible. At The Christie Law Firm, we have extensive experience standing up for the rights of parents throughout the Hartford area and can help you decide the best strategy for your family. Call our office today at (860) 461-7494 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

How to Succeed When Dealing With Connecticut DCF

How to Succeed When Dealing With Connecticut DCF

Because the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) wields so much power, it would be a mistake to underestimate them. If someone has made an allegation of child abuse or neglect, you’ve probably received a visit from a DCF caseworker or likely will soon. This is just the beginning of your interactions with the agency. How you approach things from this point forward could determine the outcome of your case.

When DCF Becomes a Part of Your Life

Many DCF cases begin with pure intentions. Someone has likely tipped off the agency that a child is being mistreated or neglected. That may or may not be accurate, but DCF caseworkers are bound by law to investigate a report.

Unfortunately, some DCF cases go much further than they should. The agency has 45 days to complete its investigation. During that period, a caseworker might ask you to sign a Safety Plan and/or agree to jump through some hoops.

But your relationship with DCF isn’t likely to end once the investigation is complete. The agency can continue to make home visits for as long as they decide it is necessary.

Common Mistakes Parents Make When Dealing With DCF

There’s nothing like the rush of panic a parent feels when they open the door and find someone from DCF standing on their doorstep. It’s confusing and embarrassing. Of course, the first instinct is to get defensive because you know you love your children and are a good parent. But, if you don’t take a few deep breaths, you’re like to make some costly mistakes.

  1. Not Taking DCF Seriously 

Unfortunately, anyone can make an anonymous report to the Connecticut DCF about suspected abuse or neglect. Some reports are legitimate, but many are not. And, now more than ever, low-income families have become the target of these investigations as people confuse poverty with neglect.

Too many innocent situations can trigger an investigation. But they are all equally serious. Any DCF investigation has the potential to get your children removed from the home. So, take a DCF contact seriously.

  1. Not Understanding the Scope of an Investigation

Few people realize that the definitions of “neglect” and “abuse” used by DCF are incredibly broad. They are so broad that they can encompass a wide variety of seemingly acceptable child supervision and parenting behavior.

If you have fallen on hard times or simply have one bad day where you can’t get support to care for your children, you could be accused of neglect. And the standard that DCF uses for child abuse isn’t the same that the authorities use to file criminal charges.

  1. Not Exercising Your Rights

While you want to be cooperative with any state agency that has the power to remove your children, do not forget that you have rights. You don’t have to allow DCF into your home without a warrant. You also don’t have to consent to an interview without having an attorney present. Even when a caseworker acts like they are on your side, use caution. The best way to deal with DCF is to let them know you intend to hire an attorney that will represent your interests.

How to Succeed When Dealing With Connecticut DCF

The best way to succeed when dealing with Connecticut DCF is to hire an experienced DCF attorney and follow their advice. Seek out an attorney who has a deep understanding of Connecticut law and an extensive background in handling DCF cases. Armed with this knowledge and experience, a Connecticut DCF attorney understands the law, the agency’s procedures, and could even have an established rapport with some of the DCF personnel and applicable judges.

Your attorney is likely to give you some advice that you either don’t understand or don’t like. If you’ve hired the right law firm, your attorney is looking out for your and your children’s best interests. Share your concerns with your lawyer so that you understand the reasons for each recommendation.

An attorney with years of experience dealing with DCF will understand the consequences of certain actions or what could happen if you fail to act as they recommend. Take advantage of those hard-won lessons so that you can get the best outcome possible for your particular DCF case.

Speak With a Qualified Connecticut DCF Defense Attorney

It would be a mistake to think that simply hiring an attorney is going to fix any and all DCF issues. But the right Connecticut DCF defense attorney will sit down with you and come up with the best strategy to secure a positive case outcome.

At The Christie Law Firm, we understand that DCF intervention is stressful and frightening. No parent wants to answer to a state agency or face the prospect of losing their children, even temporarily. When you’re in this situation, we will give you the compassion and direction you need to move forward towards a successful resolution of your DCF case.

Call our Hartford office today at (860) 461-7494 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation.

What is the Connecticut Family First Prevention Plan?

In 2018, Congress passed the landmark bipartisan Family First Prevent Services Act, representing the most significant reform in decades to federal child welfare policy. Included in the Act are historic provisions meant to keep children safely within their families and avoid the traumatic experience of a foster care situation.

The legislation emphasizes the importance of children remaining in a family setting and ensures that children are placed in the least restrictive situation possible. In the past, federal money was given to states through Title IV-E and Title IV-B of the Social Security Act to provide funds only after children were removed from the home. Now, that same funding is available for services that keep children safely at home with their families.

Family First also calls on states to drastically rethink their approach to family support and child protection. Many states have responded in kind, including ours with the Connecticut Family First Prevention Plan.

Connecticut Family First Prevention Plan

The state of Connecticut’s child welfare system believes that children are best served when they are safely in their own homes. Instead of focusing solely on surveillance and enforcement, the agency has promised to take an approach that emphasizes support for families through a community-based effort.

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) will still be involved in identifying needs within homes. But the agency states that its priority will be to keep children in the home whenever possible by leveraging community-based organizations, healthcare, behavioral health, housing, law enforcement, social services, and other available resources to produce the best outcomes for children, families, and their communities.

Eligibility for Preventative Services

One of the primary ways the state promises to leverage the new program is by creating a system to define who is eligible for services and funding. Connecticut has defined two groups of candidates:

  1. Those already “known-to-DCF” through current or prior involvement in the system or through a call to the Careline, and:
  • Siblings of youth in foster care
  • Families with accepted Careline calls
  • Pregnant and parenting youth in foster care
  1. Referrals through a “community pathway.” These include:
  • Children of incarcerated parents
  • Trafficked youth
  • Families accepted for voluntary care management
  • Homeless or unstably housed youth and their families
  • Youth who have exited foster care
  • Youth who have chronic school attendance issues
  • Families experiencing interpersonal violence
  • Children or caregivers who have a mental health condition, a substance use disorder, or a disability that impacts parenting

Initial Prevention Services

With this new program, Connecticut has established a broad range of empirically supported resources and services. The state has engaged sister agencies, providers, and advocates to develop and implement a full array of initial prevention services. Some of those services include:

  • Functional Family Therapy– a mental health service available to youth ages 11-18 with emotional or behavioral problems and their families.
  • Brief Strategic Family Therapy– mental health, substance abuse, and parent skills services available to youth ages 6-18 who are at risk of developing, or display, problem behaviors including delinquency, conduct problems, and substance use; and their families.
  • Multisystemic Therapy– mental health and substance abuse therapy available to youth ages 12-17 with serious behavioral/emotional difficulties and their families.
  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy– mental health therapy available to children ages 2-7 and their parents or caregivers.
  • Nurse-Family Partnership– parent skill-based therapy available to low-income, first-time mothers of children ages 0-2.

Practice Improvement Opportunities

The Family First Prevention Plan has specific practice requirements that ensure the state has a process for assessing a family’s needs, monitoring child safety, and driving progress.

  • Child-specific prevention plans– Once eligibility is confirmed, the DCF workers will engage families to assess their strengths and needs and partner with them to select the appropriate services.
  • Addressing needs and monitoring safety – The agencies involved will continue to focus on safety by addressing the needs of children and families early and focusing on prevention and addressing family safety issues.
  • Building workforce capacity – All workers will be trained using this new approach to keeping families together and providing support whenever possible.

Speak With an Experienced Connecticut DCF Defense Attorney

Even though Connecticut is following the federal government’s lead with its new Family First Prevention Plan, that doesn’t mean DCF won’t get involved in the lives of parents and their children. If you’ve been accused of child abuse or neglect, your parental rights could still be in jeopardy, and you’ll want a strong legal advocate to guide you through the investigation process.

At The Christie Law Firm, LLC, Attorney Christie has extensive knowledge of the applicable laws and procedures and years of experience working with DCF. Call our Hartford office today at (860) 461-7494 to schedule an initial consultation.

What Is a DCF Neglect Petition and How Can I Fight One?

The idea of losing your child may be the worst thing imaginable. However, that is exactly what can happen if the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) files a neglect petition against you and has success in court. If you have had a DCF neglect petition filed against you, the first thing that you should know is that there are options available to you and you can fight the neglect petition; the second thing that you should know is that working with a skilled attorney who has experience in Connecticut DCF cases is key. To get the help and support you need, call The Christie Law Firm, LLC today.

What Is a DCF Neglect Petition?

When the CT Department of Children and Families has a concern about a child’s safety, welfare, or health, it can file a petition stating that it believes that the parent has abused a child, neglected a child, or is unable to meet the child’s needs. When the DCF files a neglect petition, they must then serve a copy of the petition to the family in question.

Per Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-120, a child may be found “neglected” when they:

  • Have been abandoned;
  • Are being denied proper physical, emotional, or moral care and attention; or
  • Are living under conditions and circumstances that are considered injurious to the child. 

What to Do After Receiving a DCF Neglect Petition 

Receiving a DCF neglect petition can be extremely scary. You may be unsure of what the petition means, what your rights are, whether you will lose your child, and how to proceed. The first thing that you should do if you receive a DCF neglect petition is to call an attorney who is experienced in cases involving DCF.

After you receive the DCF neglect petition, you will have the opportunity to respond to the petition and attend a hearing, during which time the DCF will present any evidence of neglect that it has. During the hearing, you have the right to legal representation.

Consequences of a Neglect Petition 

The consequences of a neglect petition can be severe. If a neglect petition is filed, it may be filed in conjunction with a motion for temporary custody — this means that the DCF is asking the court to remove the child from the home and place the child in DCFs custody temporarily. There are usually two different ways that a neglect petition is resolved:

  • Commitment of the minor child. If the DCF has evidence that neglect is occurring, they may ask the court to remove the parent/guardian’s legal rights and to place the child in a foster home until further notice. While a parent can file a motion to revoke a commitment order, they will first need to show proof that the cause of neglect and need for commitment no longer exists.
  • Protective supervision. A much better option than having your child removed from the home, yet still an intimidating and invasive one, is for the DCF to ask the court for a period of protection supervision. If the court consents to DCF’s request, then the child can remain in the home but DCF can enter the home to check on the child and the parents will be required to comply with certain court-ordered steps and actions.

What Does the DCF Need to Prove In Order to Win Its Case? 

In order for the DCF to win its case, it must meet a relatively low burden of proof — by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the DCF must show the court that it is more likely than not that the child is a victim of neglect. Because this is a low standard, it can make defending yourself against a DCF petition relatively challenging. For this reason, and others, working with an attorney who can gather evidence, build your claim, and represent your interests is critical. 

Why Do I Need a DCF Neglect Petition Attorney?

If a DCF neglect petition has been filed against you, the potential consequences are very serious and there is a lot on the line. You need an attorney on your side to help you to understand the process and your rights, build your defense, and show the court that your child should remain in your home.

At The Christie Law Firm, LLC, our DCF neglect petition attorney has experience working on Connecticut DCF cases and providing families like yours with the legal guidance and representation they need. To learn more about your options and to get support during this challenging time, call our firm at (860) 461-7494, send us a message online, or visit our office in person. 

What Is the DCF Central Registry and Can I Appeal My Placement?

Most states, including the state of Connecticut, have a statewide registry where listings of child neglect, abuse, and maltreatment records are maintained. In Connecticut, this registry is known as the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) Central Registry. Here is an overview of what you should know about the DCF Central Registry and what happens if your name is placed on the registry, as well as what you should know about appealing the placement.

What Is the DCF Central Registry and When Is a Name Placed on the Registry?

If you are suspected of child abuse or neglect in our state, your name can be placed on the DCF Central Registry. When a person is suspected to be a risk to a child, the DCF will conduct an investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, the DCF may make a finding of substantiation. Substantiation means that the DCF has found that there is reasonable cause to believe that child abuse or neglect has occurred. If there is a finding of substantiation, then your name may be placed on the DCF Central Registry, but it depends on the circumstances of the case.

What Are the Consequences of a Name Being Placed on the DCF Central Registry?

If your name is added to the DCF Central Registry, the record will include your name, another identifying fact or data set (such as your address or date of birth), the date of the DCF investigation, the nature of the investigation, the DCF’s finding and the risk level of the child, as determined by the DCF.

A DCF Central Registry listing is not available to the general public and will not be accessible if a criminal background check is conducted against you. However, it will be available to the Child Protection Department. It may also be available to future employers.

Perhaps most significantly, having your name placed on the DCF Central Registry can take an emotional toll on your family. Placement on the DCF Central Registry may also impair your ability to obtain certain employment types where interaction with children is part of the job, such as a job as a nurse, teacher, coach, etc.

Can I Appeal the Placement of My Name on the DCF Central Registry? 

When the DCF makes a finding of substantiation, they must inform the identified perpetrator/parent of their finding; within that notice, the DCF is legally required to provide the parent with information about the basis for the finding, the right of the person to bring forth an administrative appeal, and the steps to take to bring forth the appeal. You have 30 days from the date of receiving the notice to file an appeal.

During the appeals hearing, you will have the opportunity to present evidence that contradicts the DCF’s evidence against you. It is especially important that you have an attorney who can represent you during this process. Your attorney can call witnesses to the stand, challenge the DCF’s evidence, and cross-examine the primary DCF investigator on your case. If your appeal is successful, then your name will not be added to the DCF Central Registry.

There is another way to remove your name from the DCF Central Registry: filing an application for removal at a later date. If you can prove that circumstances have significantly changed since your name was first placed on the registry, then you can have your name removed from the list. You will need to provide evidence of completion of rehabilitation services, a copy of your criminal record, and recommendation letters from employers, a therapist, or another trusted source. The DCF will also investigate if there have been any recent complaints brought against you/you have had a recent interaction with any child welfare agencies.

Get Help from a Trusted Attorney in Connecticut 

Having your name placed on the DCF Central Registry can be scary and intimidating, and can have a long lasting effects. You may be wondering what happens next, whether or not your child will be taken away from you, and how your future opportunities may be impacted. When you call The Christie Law Firm, LLC, our attorney can help you to appeal having your name placed on the DCF Central Registry and provide you with representation as you navigate the consequences of a DCF substantiation finding.

We have experience working on DCF cases like yours and we know how much is on the line for you and your family. For the legal support and counsel that you need, call us today at (860) 461-7494, send us a message online, or visit our law office in person for a consultation.

What Does “Family with Service Needs” Mean?

Navigating family law matters, particularly those involving children and the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) can be emotional, complex, and overwhelming. At The Christie Law Firm, LLC, our experienced family matters attorney can help you to navigate your DCF case or another juvenile matter. As you learn more about DCF cases, it is important to understand the various terms that are often used in these case types. One term with which you should become familiar is “family with service needs.” Here is an overview of what “family with service needs,” or FWSN, means as well as some of the common actions that a court may take in an FWSN case.

What Is a Family with Service Needs?

 In 2007, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill called, “An Act Concerning Children and Youth in Juvenile Matters.” Within this legislation, the term “family with service needs” is found and defined. According to the text of the bill, a family with service needs means a family that includes a child (under 18 years of age) who:

  • Ran away from the parental home without just cause;
  • Has engaged in indecent or immoral conduct;
  • Is, for some reason, “beyond the control” of their parent or guardian (or another custodian);
  • Has missed an excessive amount of school and, in addition to that, has been overly defiant of school rules and regulations while in school; or
  • Is at least 13 years of age and has engaged in sexual intercourse with someone who is at least 13 years of age as well and is not more than two years older than the youth.

What Happens if My Family Is Identified As a Family with Service Needs?

 The legislation mentioned above was passed on the basic premise that if a family is identified as a family with service needs, then both the family and the child of the family should be involved in services offered by the CT Department of Children and Families. These services designed to help the child and deal with the child’s unhealthy and problematic behavior.

The youth behaviors listed above may be reported to the DCF by a police officer, the child themself, the child’s parent, guardian, or foster parent, any child-caring institution, a probation officer, a school superintendent, or a commissioner of the DCF. If the child’s behaviors do indeed meet the criteria for a child and their family to be identified as an FWSN, the court may take any of the following actions:

  • Issue a warning to the child;
  • Decide to refer the child for voluntary services with the local school district (when the “family with service needs” identification is solely the result of the child missing school) or with the Department of Children and Families;
  • Order the child to remain under the care of their parent or guardian and assign a probation officer to enforce the order;
  • Place the child in the care and custody of a Department of Children and Families commissioner for up to 1.5 years, for placement in foster care; or
  • Hold a temporary custody hearing and place the child in the temporary care of an appropriate person or agency until such a hearing.

Why You Need Representation from a Skilled Connecticut Attorney

 At the law office of The Christie Law Firm, we know how scary it can be for both parents and a child to be identified as a family with service needs. While the fact is that the law provides for the coordination of resources designed to help a child, the reality is that this could mean that DCF removes a child from your home or takes other serious adverse actions against your child or your family.

The important thing to remember is that you have rights during this process. After an FWSN petition is filed, there will be a hearing. You want an attorney representing your child and your family during that hearing. The outcome of a hearing can have a major impact on your child’s and your family’s future. Your attorney can explain to you the law and your rights, and advocate for your family’s best interests throughout the process. Your attorney can also explain what happens post-hearing and what happens if there is a violation of an FWSN order.

Call The Christie Law Firm, LLC Today

 At The Christie Law Firm, our experienced family with service needs attorney understands what you are going through and what you will be facing. As you navigate the complex system and laws related to the CT Department of Children and Families, our experienced Connecticut DCF lawyer will be by your side to answer your questions and provide legal advice and representation. To learn more about your rights, call our lawyer today at (860) 461-7494 or send us a message at your convenience.

What Is A Connecticut DCF Safety Plan?

One of the biggest decisions a parent must make if the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) shows up at their door is whether or not to cooperate. While agency investigators have no right to come into your home without a warrant, there could be serious consequences for not cooperating with an investigation.

But how much cooperation is too much? You should be honest and helpful to a point. However, when an investigator puts a form in front of you and says you should sign it, that could also have negative consequences.

What Is A Connecticut DCF Safety Plan?

In Connecticut, about half of all DCF cases end up with what is called a Safety Plan. From the perspective of the DCF investigator, a Safety Plan is put in place so that a parent understands what should or should not be done to ensure a child’s safety.

For example, a safety plan might dictate that a parent cannot drink or use drugs in the child’s presence, must complete a substance abuse course, or that children must live with a relative for a specified period while DCF completes its investigation.

But parents rarely get input on these plans, and they are put together quickly. The agency is tasked with protecting the welfare of children throughout the state, but they might not get a clear picture of the situation. This puts both parents and their children at a distinct disadvantage, so it is vital that you use caution when an investigator suggests a Safety Plan.

Should You Sign A DCF Safety Plan?

What many parents do not realize is that signing a Safety Plan is not mandatory. That is right – you do not have to sign the form that DCF puts in front of you. In fact, you should not sign a Safety Plan without first speaking with an attorney.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Child Protective Services nationwide received over 4.3 million allegations of juvenile mistreatment in 2018 alone. That is a staggering figure. But what is even more disturbing is that over half (56.3%) of the claims were unsubstantiated.

When you sign a Safety Plan, you are giving DCF the power to potentially remove your children from your home if they decide you are not complying with their list of demands. It is rare that an investigator will tell you this or advise you of your rights before an interview.

Therefore, it is a good idea to contact an attorney as soon as you learn you are under investigation by DCF.

If You’ve Already Signed a Safety Plan and Feel Stuck

It is not uncommon for parents to feel so intimidated by DCF investigators that they will sign just about anything, thinking they are doing what is best for their children. After all, the law in most states requires that parents act in the best interests of their children.

If you signed a Safety Plan and do not feel that DCF is treating you fairly, you certainly are not alone. News stories and investigations have been opened nationwide about Safety Plans. Lawsuits have even been filed alleging that these instruments are unconstitutional.

When DCF uses flimsy reasoning to remove your children from your home, prolong an investigation, or issue an investigation decision without substantiation, it is time to fight back. Even if you did not have an attorney during the investigation or before signing a Safety Plan, you can get one now to file an appeal. Contact us today.

Speak With an Experienced Connecticut DCF Lawyer

DCF is not going to outline your rights, but you have them and should exercise them for the sake of your family. A state agency that has the power to remove your children from your home has legal resources in its corner, so you do not want to face them alone when your family’s future is at stake.

The Christie Law Firm, LLC will protect your rights and represent your interests throughout a DCF investigation and appeal. With more than a decade of experience as a DCF worker, our attorney understands how this agency works and has the legal background to give your case the attention it needs and deserves.

Contact our Hartford office today for a confidential initial consultation. Call (860) 461-7494 or reach out to us online for an appointment.