The Clarity of 2020

In December 2019, I was excited about the year 2020. It was so cool, as 20/20 is a designation for perfect vision.  I knew it was going to a unique year and I wanted to be sure to make it a great one. I even made a joke that I will see clearly in 2020!  Who knew how solemn a truth that would be?

The year 2020 started well.  In January I was planful and had a lot of hope about what kind of year I was going to have.  Then came March 2020, and I did not see COVID coming or its impact.   I started out in denial by thinking, “why are they making such a big deal of this?” and “what do you mean, you can’t find toilet paper?!” Honestly, I figured it would be a couple of weeks and then back to life as usual.  Little did I know that a couple of weeks would turn into many months.

It is now January 2021, and one thing is for sure, life as usual, maybe gone for good.  At one point, I teased people who wore masks in public. Now, I am one of those people.  Get-togethers were on a screen. Holidays were spent over the phone versus in person.  How in the world are we going to get through this is the question?  This is where the 20/20 clarity started to come true.  I saw more clearly that what I needed to get through life were God and my loved ones.

The loss of life due to COVID is not just a number. People have lost parents, children, friends, extended family, co-workers, and the list goes on. Literally, COVID has taken the lives of so many in a short period of time.  I too lost friends in this season and much of it was painful.  I saw that the people I did have in my life were a blessing that I should not take for granted.  My faith in God and His plan for my life now had taken front and center stage for me.  Why – because it was the one thing I knew I could count on in an ever-changing world.

It takes faith to think it is worth getting and living each day not knowing exactly how the future plays out.  It takes faith to realize that the people in our lives now, would appreciate it because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  It takes faith to believe God has a plan and that plan will be for our good.

The clarity of 2020 will not be wasted on me.  Life is truly too short not to appreciate every blessing that we have, especially the blessing of loved ones.  I am not sure what 2021 will look like but I am sure I look forward to seeing more of what life has taught me.

Our Why

It took years to get here, but I am glad I am finally here. Finding myself, my worth, and why I do what I do was always not clear. I suspect the same for many people. However, arriving at why we do what we do is important, no matter how long it takes, is worth it.

As a child, we moved around a lot! The song by the Temptations “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” made sense to me. By the time I was in high school, I lived in three different states, attended several different schools, and almost lost track of the different homes where we lived. Our family was always in search of better, and better often meant a move. Yet, in all of this instability, I actually had stability. No matter where we lived I knew my mother would be home. I knew that Monday night dinner was always Sunday’s leftover, Friday was pizza night, and Saturday was soup day. I knew that there was no tv during the school week and Sundays we went to church. I had incredible stability despite the many changes in location. My mother provided the stability in every home we lived in and that made all the difference in the world. Locations changed but Momie stayed the same.

As an adult, I find that often quote my mother and recall the valuable lessons she taught me. My work ethic comes from her and she instilled in us (whether we wanted it or not) a spirit of excellence. I thought she was so strict and at times mean. Little did I know that she was giving us what we needed to be the responsible and hardworking adults we are now. I now realize how important a parent is for every child. If you noticed, I haven’t mentioned my dad. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around for most of childhood and it remains the same today. Yet, his very absence played a significant role in my life, and it took time to heal from that missing part of my life. No matter what, parents make a difference for every child. They can be the child’s greatest cheerleader or that child’s greatest nemeses.

Imagine a world where parents are supported in such a way that they are in the best position to love and care for their children. A world where parents learn from their mistakes and change so that they can be the finest parent possible to their children. A world were we give each child the opportunity to grow up with stability that comes from parents who put their needs first. At the Christie Law Firm, we are creating such a world. We are helping children, by helping their parents. We are making families stronger by focusing on what is best for the child and aiding parents to make that happen. What is best for any child are parents who love, and care for them, and provide the best life they can.

When you talk with us at The Christie Law Firm, LLC, we will ask about your kids. We want to know how they are doing. We will partner with you with them in mind. We will help you find solutions that make your families stronger, and give your kids what they deserve, great parents. Please note I didn’t say, perfect parents. However, you are great if you show up every day for your children, putting their needs above your own, and giving them a chance to succeed.

I will be forever grateful to my mother for the sacrifices she made to raise us. We moved around a lot, and I say it has made me able to adjust quickly to change. Yet, her stable presence in our lives, the lessons, and the direction she provided me has had more impact on who I am today than those relocations. Kids need their parents. Your kids need you. We can’t let them down and The Christie Law Firm is here to help.

Racist Kids

I know that I caught your attention. The mere notion of the term “racist kids” is tough for us to imagine. Yet consider this: racism exists, but it does not perpetuate itself. We help to keep it alive by teaching racism to children by our thoughts, words, and deeds. We are not born racist, but we can be taught to be racist.

“I don’t want black people on my lawn.” I was about 8 years old when I was told we could not cross our neighbor’s yard to get to the other part of the neighborhood. I remember thinking for the first time, “I am black?” My mother taught us that the only identity we needed to know was that we were her kids. This meant that we are to act accordingly. That day, I realized that what I looked like mattered to others for the first time in my life. Over time, it taught me to do the same for others. I began to judge people by their appearance. If they looked like me, it was safe, if they didn’t, beware. The older I got, the worse it became, especially after learning of slavery and other racial atrocities. I began to be hostile in my thoughts towards others who didn’t look like me. I was racist without ever intending to be so. I thank God that this behavior did not last. What changed? My understanding that God is not racist, and He loves us all. Heaven does not have a “black section.” If I am to be a child of God, I needed to see the beauty of all of his creation, not just my own.

This new understanding was tested when I was a social worker for DCF. I met “Jack” when I assigned to his case after he and his brothers were removed from their parents’ care. I learned that his father didn’t like black people, but I never thought about what impact on his father’s view would have on Jack. Until one day, Jack said to me, “I don’t like black people.” I paused, realized that he couldn’t fully appreciate what he was speaking at the moment as it was only six years old. My thoughts, “Do I treat him poorly and write him off as a racist, or do I take the opportunity to undo the damage that had been done?” That day, I decided to show Jack black people were ok. I spent time with Jack and showed him nothing but kindness. We didn’t talk about race or racism. We just learned more about each other. Taking him for ice cream also helped! Over time, Jack came to like me a great deal. He would often greet me with a hug. I later learned that his first “girlfriend” in second grade, was a little girl of color. Jack wasn’t racist, he was taught by his father to be racist, and that needed to be undone.

Parents have the most significant impact on their children. We can pass on our values and beliefs to the next generation easily. They are watching us and learning from us. Are we teaching them love or teaching them to hate? Are we teaching tolerance or discrimination? Are we teaching them the value of every human life or that some people are dispensable? Whatever the lesson, we are responsible for changing the fabric of society, starting with our children. “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” – Whitney Houston.

We can change things, one child, at a time.

5 Tips on Dealing with COVID-19 and Co-Parenting

On September 11, 2001, I stood and watched on TV as the second plane flew into one of the Twin Towers. We were sent home from work. I thought, “Are we under attack? Are we at war? Are we safe?” The days and months that ensued changed the fabric of our society. Fear became the norm and impacted many of our decisions. I thought that had to be the worse time of our lives, then COVID-19 happened.

We are now living in unprecedented times. We don’t fear the next terrorist attack…as much. We now fear a cough or a sneeze from another person. Although more people have survived having the COVID-19 virus, many have died. It is not possible to predict with certainty how you would survive having the virus. As a result, we are protective of ourselves and our loved ones, especially our children. This makes co-parenting very difficult in times like these. If the kids are in the house, you can have more control in preventing their exposure to the virus. Once they leave to visit the other parent, you no longer have that control. However, we cannot allow fear to rule the day. I truly believe “this too shall pass.” Yet, how you handle co-parenting can have a lasting impact on the future custody of your children.

In this article, we will go over some tips around co-parenting during this pandemic. I realize this is easier said than done. However, when we return to life, as usual, the Courts will look at how parents dealt with ensuring each party spent time with the child or children. In a time when we see so many people die from this virus, and you have no way of knowing who is next, you want to be sure to spend as much time loving each other as possible. We need to keep that in mind not only for ourselves but for the other parent as well. As you read these tips, try to put yourself in the other parents’ shoes. How would you want to be treated? What would be fair to you? After you have done that, then you can make decisions that are best for the children, which is the determining factor for the Court.

Tip 1: Maintain safety

There are articles, Facebook posts, and news reports every single day on how to stay safe during this crisis. I prefer to rely on the CDC for information – less propaganda! (See https://www.cdc.gov/). There you can learn information as to how to reduce the likelihood of being exposed to the virus. We should follow it and make sure that everyone in the house supports it as well. Now is not the time to allow our teens or anyone the freedom to “just be themselves.” Be vigilant, and we can improve the chances of not contracting the virus.

Tip 2: Talk openly and honestly with your children

There is no way to shield your children from what is happening in society. They see it as soon as they get on the internet on their way to navigating to their schoolwork. Do not assume that just because they are children, they do not have their thoughts and feelings about what is happening. Take the time to talk to them about what is happening and why you are taking the necessary precautions. This may help them to realize for themselves why they need to stay safe. Also, this will help them to be vigilant when they need to leave the house to visit with the other parent. They may be the ones to insist on the other parent taking precautions in the event the other parent is not as careful as you have been in your home.

Tip 3: Follow court orders

Admittedly, this can be very difficult to do under these circumstances. You have no way of knowing how safe the other parent is at any given time. This is why regularly talking to the other parent will help. You can’t decide in the vacuum. You need information. At some point, the Courts will open up, and the other parent may choose to file a motion for contempt, claiming you did not allow visits with the children. Your response can’t only be “there was a pandemic, and I wanted to keep the kids safe.” You need to have facts around why you stopped the visitation. Perhaps, the other parent wasn’t practicing social distancing as evidenced by the party pictures posted on Facebook or that he or she confirmed that they are sick. The Court takes their orders very seriously. Violating a court order can cost you, and so you need to be sure you are standing on solid facts before deciding to violate an order.

Tip 4: Find ways to compromise

Assume for the time being that the other parent cares as much about the children as you do. They may show it differently, but for now, give them the benefit of the doubt. Talk to them about ways you both can spend time with the children and keep them safe at the same time. Perhaps, for the time being, the visits are at your home so that you can watch as they come in and ensure they have washed their hands before being with the children. However, if you can’t be in the same room with each other, perhaps you can meet more often than the regular schedule but for less time somewhere in the community. You may agree upon a third party to host the parenting time because you can rely on that person to keep everyone safe. No matter what you do, enter the conversation ready to compromise, which often means giving up something. This will help in finding a means to allow the other parent time with kids and keep the kids safe. I am in no way suggesting you let the kids enter into an environment that is not safe for them. However, you can’t just default to “no” without first trying to find a way to make it work.

Tip 5: Document, document, document

You may be the parent who is denied the visit despite all of your efforts to keep safe, compromise with the other parent, and follow court orders. In that instance, I recommend that you document, document, document! In Connecticut, the courts are closed to any court activity that does not fall into the Priority 1 category. This category includes only specific types of cases such as

  • Criminal arraignments of defendants held in lieu of bond
  • All arraignments involving domestic violence cases;
    • Family orders of relief from abuse;
    • Civil orders of relief from abuse
    • Ex-parte motions
    • Orders of temporary custody (Juvenile Matters)
    • Orders to appear (Juvenile Matters)
    • Emergency ex-parte order of temporary custody
    • Juvenile detention operations for detainees held for juvenile Court

(See https://jud.ct.gov/COVID19.htm) for more details. Regrettably, motions around modifying visitation are not in this category. Moreover, there is no guarantee that if you file a motion emergency ex-parte order for temporary custody around obtaining visitation, it will be granted. Trust me, I tried! When the Courts reopen, they will review cases in which there was a violation of court-ordered visitation. You need to be prepared to lay out the details of the dates and times that you were not allowed visitation with your children. Do not wait until standing before a Judge to try to remember the facts. Keep a journal – whether you use a paper calendar or notes on your phone. Be sure to keep a good record of your efforts to see the kids and when the visit was denied. As I noted earlier, the Courts do not take violations of court orders lightly. The other parent will have to justify their refusal, and if they can’t, a court could rule against them. A Court can only do so when it has facts upon which it can rely. So again, I say, document, document, document.

COVID-19 will change our society. Time will tell the impact it will have on how we live our lives and conduct our business. One thing that will not change is that children need to have a relationship with both of their parents. If a Court finds that contact with a parent is not in the child’s best interest, then and only then, can contact be denied. In the meantime, we have to find a way to make parenting time with each parent happen even in a pandemic. Do you very best to find a way to keep the kids safe while ensuring that the other parent can spend time with the children.

One thing that COVID-19 has proven is we can’t predict who and how it will impact. Therefore, we need to spend as much time with our loved ones in any way we can. We will overcome this pandemic. We will survive, and life will go on. How we treat each other during this time is just as important. Don’t allow fear to rule the day.

Grandparents Raising Children

My grandmother was a critical part of my entire life. I could count on her to treat every one of my birthdays like it was Christmas. I remember when she would babysit and she insisted on watching the “the Archie Bunker show” (All in the Family) as she called it. I grew to like the show myself! While my grandmother played a big role in my life, it was up to my mom to raise me.

Yet, in the 21st century, we are finding a larger number of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Imagine going from being an empty nester to raising a 5-year-old child. You do it out of love, but it is a major adjustment. Fortunately, there are many resources to aid grandparents who need to play more of a parenting role in the lives of their grandchildren. We will first look at how grandparents can utilize the court system to care for their grandchildren should they find themselves needing to do so.

In Connecticut, there are three different court systems that handle matters related to children. Each of them is different and having an understanding of these differences will help you decide the best course for your family. First, you have the Superior Court for Family Matters. This court hears “cases involving juveniles and family relationships. Typical cases include divorce, child custody, child support, relief from abuse (temporary restraining orders)” (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/external/super/divisions.htm). In this court, grandparents have very limited access to intervention. They may be limited to obtaining visitation with their grandchildren. In this court, it takes extraordinary circumstances to grant grandparent custody.

Secondly, there is the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. In Juvenile Matters, the court hears matters pertaining to “termination of parental rights; emancipation of a minor; delinquency; neglected or uncared for children and youth; families with service needs.” See https://www.jud.ct.gov/external/super/divisions.htm). As it pertains to child custody, the majority of these matters are a result of DCF filing an order of temporary custody or neglect petitions on behalf of a child or children. Once DCF takes custody of a child, it is under a strict time clock to find a permanent home for that child. This is where a grandparent will have easier access into a case and may petition the court to transfer custody or guardianship to the grandparent. The only issue is that DCF is a petitioner and they have to agree to the transfer, or a grandparent may find themselves going to trial against DCF. This is a hard task, but it is not impossible! It is important for a grandparent to be knowledgeable about child protection law and DCF policies so they know how to exercise their rights as a relative of the child. When dealing with DCF and the Juvenile Court, my strongest advice is to hire an attorney like me!

If you are a grandparent who is already caring for your grandchild, or you see that there is a need for you to step in given the parents’ struggle, the best place to go is the Probate Court for your town. (See http://www.ctprobate.gov/Pages/Directory.aspx) The Probate Court is sometimes unofficially referred to as “the people’s court.” The reasoning behind this nickname is that it is far less formal than Family Matters or Juvenile Matters. Individuals can walk in and be assisted by court clerks in filling out the appropriate forms based on their requests. The only parties to the case are the petitioner, the mother, the father, and the child through his or her attorney. DCF’s role is only to complete an investigation and make a recommendation. The grandparents can make a plea for temporary custody, co-guardianship, removal of guardian and termination of parental rights in extreme cases. The Judges listen to all the parties and the setting is usually more relaxed. The rulings have the same weight as in a family or juvenile court, but grandparents caring for children tend to have more sway.

Regardless of where you end up as a grandparent, please note that the courts in Connecticut can help. In every court, the best interests of the child are paramount over even the parents’ rights. If you believe you need to intervene on behalf of your grandchild please call our office to set up a consultation at (860) 461-7494 or reach out to one of these courts for assistance. The courts may not be able to help you figure out the Tik-Tok app, but they help you ensure that you can be a resource for your grandchildren!

What to Do If DCF Calls You: DCF Investigation Results

In earlier posts, we discussed

  1. outline of a DCF investigation (see https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/what-to-do-if-dcf-calls-you)
  2. the parent’s right to know (see https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/what-to-do-if-dcf-calls-you-parents-right-to-know) and
  3. tips on handling a DCF investigation (see https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/top-10-things-to-do-or-not-do-when-you-are-being-investigated-by-dcf.)

Eventually, the DCF investigation must come to a conclusion. How it ends is as important as how it is handled. This post will outline some of the key components to the end of the DCF investigation, and what to look out for at the end. This is not intended to be legal advice, but to provide you with some general knowledge.

When we think of child abuse or child neglect we often first think of cases like children being left alone in hot cars, or children being physically abused. These events do constitute neglect and abuse, but there is a much larger area of abuse and neglect that can be harder to comprehend. This is the area that DCF has to cover as well. A parent may be very loving to their child and ensure that all of the child’s needs are met. However, if that parent drinks heavily each night after the children are asleep, DCF may consider that the children are “at-risk” as the parent may be too impaired to deal with an emergency in the middle of the night, such as a fire.

There are several categories of abuse and neglect as outlined on DCF’s website. See https://portal.ct.gov/DCF/1-DCF/Child-Abuse-and-Neglect-Definitions (Please note, you can learn a great deal about DCF by studying their own website.) The categories of abuse include:

  1. Educational Neglect
  2. Emotional Maltreatment – Abuse
  3. Emotional Neglect
  4. Medical Neglect
  5. Moral Neglect
  6. Physical Abuse
  7. Physical Neglect
  8. Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

This a long list with an even longer explanation for each of the categories. We will not go into what each of these means as there many details. However, these definitions are supposed to be a guide for DCF in making their finds. The issue is that it can be very subjective. It is how each DCF social worker and their management looks at the facts that determine if they are going to substantiate any abuse or neglect. To substantiate means to find that abuse or neglect has occurred to a child or children.

Once DCF has decided if it can substantiate abuse or neglect. They will also make a determination of who caused the abuse and/or neglect. This again is based on the evidence found during the investigation. This is also documented in the investigation protocol – a document completed by the investigation social worker which details the entire investigation and the findings. You can get a copy of your investigation by emailing DCF.RECORDS@ct.gov and following the directions given to you. DCF is then obligated to send the parents a letter noting if abuse or neglect was substantiated and by whom. They will also indicate if that person who caused the abuse or neglect is placed on the DCF Central Registry – a list of individuals who pose a threat to children.

Never overlook a DCF substantiation as it can have long-lasting consequences for anyone found to have abused or neglected a child. For example:

  • A grandmother can be excluded as foster parents for their own grandchild if they were found to have neglected a child over 20 years ago.
  • An aunt and uncle could be excluded from being legal guardians for their niece and nephew due to medical neglect of their own child substantiated 15 years ago.
  • A teacher can risk losing her job if found to have neglected her daughter who had severe mental health needs that were beyond her control.

These are true stories of clients that we have helped whose lives were severely impacted by a substantiation. They disagreed with the investigation, and in some, we were able to get the substantiation reversed – which means overturned and therefore there was no finding of abuse or neglect. In others, no change was made, and the families continued to deal with consequences.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to handle a DCF investigation properly. You will never know the impact it can have your family 5, 10 or 20 years down the road. If you are a subject of DCF investigation and you need help please contact our office if at (860) 461-7494 or email: family1st@thechristielawfirm.com.

What to Do If DCF Calls You: Top 10 things to do or not do when you are being investigated by DCF

Introduction

Now that we have discussed the outline of DCF investigation (see https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/post/what-to-do-if-dcf-calls-you) and your rights as parents when dealing with DCF (see https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/post/what-to-do-if-dcf-calls-you), we want to review some tips on what to do or not do when you are being investigated by DCF. This in no means guarantees the outcome you desire or is intended to be legal advice, but it can help with lessening the risk of the case going in the wrong direction.

1. Do remain as calm as possible.

Yes, this is easier said than done. You are being accused of being a bad parent, the accusations may be baseless, and now DCF is at your house. Anger can cause you to lose focus on the matter at hand, dealing with the investigation. If you deal with the concerns effectively, DCF may be inclined to close the case with no issue. If you remain angry and they can’t get you to deal with the issues they may opt for further intervention.

2. Do insist on details about the investigation.

When DCF arrives, start the conversation yourself by asking to be told what is in the investigation. You should ask them to read it to you as they will often have the report with them. Do not start by answering their questions. Insist on knowing what is being said. This way you will not how to tailor your answers. Also, be sure to get the name of the DCF social worker, the social worker’s supervisor, and the supervisor’s program manager and keep that information for your records.

3. Do ask the DCF social worker what you have to do to resolve their concerns.

DCF is there for a particular reason. It is important to find out what you need to do to resolve their concerns with you. You do this by asking. You don’t have to do everything they ask but you need to be sure that you are addressing the issues of safety, and the care of the children. For example, if the doctor called because you haven’t followed through with recommended treatment for your child, then schedule an appointment with the doctor to determine the best course of treatment, and follow-through. You can then ask the doctor to send an updated letter to DCF regarding how you addressed the concern and are now in compliance with treatment.

4. Do “DCF-proof “ your home.

DCF will come to your home to interview you and your children, but they are also looking to see how you keep your home. DCF is not interested in décor and color schemes, but they are looking for physical signs of neglect in the home. The home visit will no doubt be announced so you will have time to “DCF-proof” your home. Start by doing a general clean up, clearing up clutter or any trash. Clear out any alcohol bottles and any signs of a party so they don’t think that the kids are exposed to alcohol abuse. If there are areas of your house that are in need of repair, ensure that it is closed off to the children so they are not exposed to any hazard. Ensure that the kids’ rooms are tidy, and toys are seen but put away. Again, the idea is not to prove you can keep a clean home at all times, but to show that you care about the home environment enough to keep it safe for your children.

5. Do offer letters from the school, the doctor or other service providers rather than sign a release.

Many of us know that HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protects your medical and mental health information. (See https://portal.ct.gov/AG/Health-Issues/Health-Information–Services/Your-Rights-Under-HIPAA) You also have a right to privacy afforded to us under the Fourth Amendment. This ultimately means even a state agency like DCF can’t access to your private information without your approval. DCF will ask you for a release allowing them unrestricted access to your most private information. You don’t have to do that in order to get them the information. You can ask the DCF worker to list specifically what information they are seeking to alleviate any concerns and then ask that provider to write a letter answering those specific questions. For example, if DCF wants to ensure that your child attends school regularly, have the school write a letter regarding your child’s attendance. There is no need to open your life to DCF completely. You can simply give them the information that they need to close your case.

6. Do not allow DCF to speak with your children alone.

If you allow DCF into your home, they will ask to speak with your children alone. I suggest that you stay in the room or at least in the general vicinity. You want to hear what has been asked of child, so that after DCF is gone, you help your child process what actually happened. It also, allows the child to feel a level of protection as they are being questioned by a stranger. Many DCF workers are trained on how to speak with children, but nevertheless, it can be traumatic to have a stranger ask them about what is happening in their home. Stay close by and be a support to your child.

7. Do not insist on knowing who called DCF on you.

It is instinctual and justified to want to know who made the call to DCF. Who caused DCF to come to your house and disrupt your home? The issue is the caller can request to remain anonymous. I understand the reasoning. Just like whistleblower laws, you want people to come forward and report abuse or neglect of any child so that the child can get help. There is no way to ensure that only valid calls of abuse or neglect are made, and therefore this privilege of anonymity extends to truthful calls as well as malicious calls. The DCF investigator has to keep that information confidential if the caller requested confidentiality.

On the other hand, have the DCF worker read to you what is noted in the report. Often, you can tell who made the report by what was actually reported. Spend your energy by focusing on how to get DCF to close their case without further intervention.

8. Do not ignore the call from DCF all together.

There are some who would say, “just ignore the call and they will go away.” I compare that advice to ignoring the check engine light on your car dashboard assuming that with time it will go away. In either instance, it may not go away until to you do something about it. You can answer the call, to determine the issue and then make a decision on how you should proceed. Ignoring the call could cause DCF to take further action just to ensure the child’s safety. I have seen investigations span months simply because the investigator couldn’t find the family.

9. Do not try to provide an explanation or justification for everything.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” We associate these rights with what a police officer is required to tell you once you are in police custody. I apply these rights to everything you say to a DCF social worker. EVERYTHING you say can be used against you. Your efforts to explain what happened or justify your actions may be construed very differently by a DCF social worker. It is best to answer only the question asked of you and when DCF notes its concern say “I understand.” “I understand” doesn’t admit to any issue nor does it deny the issue. “I understand” doesn’t mean you agree. It simply means you acknowledge the issue and are ready to move forward with resolving the concern.

10. Do not lie about any facts.

Sometimes, the truth is hard to face or admit to when confronted. There may be an instinct to lie. Do not lie about any fact, especially those that can be proven. If you smoke marijuana, don’t deny it. You could eventually be court-ordered to take a substance abuse test that will come back positive. It will only be used against you later on by claiming you lack insight into the issue.

Moreover, DCF will have difficulty trusting the things you say that are actually true. DCF needs to establish that your children are at risk or have been abused by your behavior. Let them find the facts, but don’t lie.

Conclusion

This is not an exhaustive list of dos and don’ts for when DCF initiates an investigation of your family. It is not intended to be legal advice for any particular case. The purpose is to give you some additional insight as to how to handle yourself when DCF comes to your home. If you choose to handle it on your own or call an attorney (like me!), you should be aware of what to do so that the situation is not made worse. Take time to review the DCF website, https://portal.ct.gov/DCF and educate yourself. Knowledge is power!

What to Do If DCF Calls You – Parents’ Right to Know

Introduction

In our previous post (see: https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/post/what-to-do-if-dcf-calls-you) we discussed the general outline of a DCF investigation. It is good to understand what to expect when DCF begins an investigation regarding you and your family. In Part 2, we will review the parents’ rights to know. This post is to give you a general outline of what is included in the Parents Right to Know brochure and some implications. (See: https://portal.ct.gov/DCF/Multicultural-Affairs/Parents-Right-to-Know) This is not to give you the legal advice you need in dealing with DCF. However, we do hope that you will see how important your rights are as a parent, and not be afraid to exercise those rights.

Outline of the brochure

One of the first things you notice when you research the DCF website for the Parents Right to Know is that it is provided to you in eight different languages. (See https://portal.ct.gov/DCF/Multicultural-Affairs/Parents-Right-to-Know). If an agency takes the time to translate a document in eight different languages it is a strong indication that it is important for everyone to know. My advice is if DCF calls you, first take the time to read the document in the language you understand best.

Here are the initial rights as outlined in the brochure:

“In accordance with Connecticut law, you have the following rights regarding your child ________________.”

“You are not required to permit a DCF employee to enter your residence. You are not required to speak with a DCF employee.”

Implications: You can choose to meet DCF somewhere other than your home or you can opt to not meet with DCF at all. The implications are that if DCF feels that the situation requires seeing the home and speaking to the family in order to ensure that the children are safe, they may seek Juvenile court intervention. You will have to decide if you want to take that risk depending on your situation.

“You are entitled to seek the advice of an attorney and to have that attorney present when a DCF employee questions you.”

Implications: You can ask them to wait until you get advice from an attorney. DCF will not wait for an extended period of time, but it does give you an opportunity to at least consult with an attorney. You may also have an attorney present with you at home or anywhere you choose to meet with DCF. I have often done this with my clients. It helps to have an advocate there from the very beginning so that the investigation doesn’t go in the wrong direction.

“Any statement you or your family members make to a DCF employee may be used against you in court or administrative proceedings.”

Implications: This is absolutely true! You may think you are explaining the situation for yourself. However, DCF could read that explanation as further evidence of neglect or abuse. It is important to answer only the questions asked of you or seek the assistance of an attorney to help you decide what you should or should not say.

“A DCF social worker is not an attorney and cannot provide you with legal advice.”

Implications: This is true, but I have seen where DCF workers may “suggest” what you should do regarding your children. They will never say “my legal advice to is…” However, telling you how to handle a custody situation is legal advice. Be careful in regards to taking any legal action in court at the advice of a DCF worker. The concern is if called to testify in court, a DCF SW could deny giving you legal advice as they are not lawyers. It will appear as though you are using them to meet your own legal agenda.

“You are not required to sign any document presented to you by a DCF employee and you are entitled to have your attorney review any document before you sign it. This includes, for example, a release of claims or a service agreement.”

Implications: This is correct and you should exercise this right. You should find out what DCF needs to know about you or your children, and then provide that information in writing to them without signing a release. For example, if they need to know if the kids are up to date medically, ask their doctor’s office to write a letter for you to that effect, then provide that to DCF. DCF may ask you to sign safety agreements or service agreements in order to provide a safeguard for your children. These have serious legal consequences and you need to seek the advice of an attorney before signing any agreements.

“Please be advised that choosing not to communicate with a DCF employee may have serious consequences, which may include DCF filing a petition to remove your child from your home. It is, therefore, in your best interests to either speak with the DCF employee or immediately seek the advice of an attorney.”

Implications: This is also correct. DCF has a tremendous task and that is to safeguard the children that come to their attention or that are in their care. Any time a child dies in CT from abuse, the first question asked: “what did DCF do to protect this child?” It is scary to know a child was severely abused or neglected while you were the social worker on the case. Knowing this, a DCF social worker will often do what is necessary to ensure that the child is safe even if means filing petitions against you. If the situation is serious, and you are afraid to deal with it alone, you should call an attorney for assistance. One who knows about DCF and has practiced in this area. Too much is at stake for someone who is not clear on how to handle the case.

There are other rights, noted in the brochure. These rights are to be insisted upon regardless of the nature of the investigation. No parent is perfect, and children do not come with instructions! Therefore, parents will make mistakes and some of those mistakes may come to DCF’s attention. In any event, insist on the following rights when dealing with DCF. Do not allow anyone to make you feel as if you are not deserving of the right to be your child’s parent.

The additional rights are:

  1. “You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity.”
  2. “You have the right to have an interpreter present to assist you to understand all of the proceedings in your case.”
  3. “You have the right to request that all of the documents related to your case be translated into your primary language.”
  4. “You have the right to request and receive thorough and understandable answers to any questions you may have about the Department’s involvement with your family.”
  5. “You have the right to have any person of your choosing (such as a friend, relative or clergyperson) present during meetings with DCF unless a court order forbids the involvement of that person.”
  6. “You have the right to request and receive the information contained in the Department’s records about the investigation and findings concerning you and your child(ren). Access to the identity of the person(s) who reported suspected abuse or neglect may be restricted.”
  7. “You have the right to privacy. Records regarding you and your family will not be publicly released by the Department without your permission unless authorized by law. However, information may be disclosed to other agencies for investigation, treatment or other purposes as permitted by law.”
  8. “You have the right to have information about your case expunged under certain circumstances.”
  9. “You have the right to contact the DCF Ombudsman’s Office for assistance in resolving any dispute you may have with DCF staff, providers or foster parents. The Ombudsman can be reached from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Monday thru Friday at (860) 550-6301.”

All of the rights noted above are important in every case. However, how you exercise these rights can have different consequences because each case is treated differently based on the facts presented. For example, DCF’s approach to your child missing too many days from school will be very different than their approach to a report of sexual abuse. The key is to understand your rights and take whatever steps necessary to protect your family. In some cases, you could probably handle DCF on your own as the situation may not be serious. However, if it is serious and you don’t handle correctly, DCF may take an approach that could lead to Juvenile Court. Advocating for yourself is important, but when dealing with an agency like DCF you may want to find someone who can advocate with you. Your family’s future may depend on it.

Contact our office if you need help: (860) 461-7494 or email: family1st@thechristielawfirm.com.

What to Do If DCF Calls You – Important Information about DCF Investigations

One of the scariest calls you can get is from a DCF worker. DCF stands for the Department of Children and Families. In Connecticut, they have the task of protecting the welfare of children located in the State of Connecticut. According to DCF, “the mission of the Department of Children and Families is to protect children, improve child and family wellbeing, and support and preserve families.” This is taken from the Parent’s Right to Know brochure given to each parent. (See https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/DCF/Brochures/PRTKEnglish-2019.pdf?la=en).

This mission statement sounds ok until you realize what DCF has the power to do. They can investigate your entire family and make a determination if your children should remain in your care. Knowing this power, you have to do more than read a brochure. You need to understand their goals and procedures when you are being investigated by DCF so you know how best to deal with DCF if they call.

In this blog, I will outline the overall procedure of each investigation. This is to give you some insight into what to expect. In the next post, I will give explanations about your rights as parents. The final post in this series will give some tips on what to do if DCF has called you. The goal is not to give legal advice on to handle your case because each case is different. The goal is to help you understand the role and function of the DCF investigation so that you can be prepared.

DCF is one agency that doesn’t need to look for work, it comes to them. A call comes into the DCF hotline number (1-800-842-2288). A social worker responds and asks a series of questions about the case. They need to know more than just general compliant, names and addresses. They may do a preliminary investigation over the phone to determine as much information as possible. They ask about others in the home. They ask about issues of drug use or domestic violence. They need to know all the issues as much as possible before making a determination of what is next.

After the call, the social worker in connection with a supervisor will determine how best to proceed. If they determine that there is not enough to proceed with an investigation because there is not enough information or the issue does not include issues of abuse or neglect then the call goes no further. If there is a valid concern of abuse or neglect, then the call is coded for the type of response needed.

From there, the report is sent to the office covering the town where the child is located. The social worker has to initiate contact with the family by making a telephone call or visiting the home if necessary. After the call is made, the investigator will begin the investigation.

The investigation typically starts with contacting the reporter. The investigator will see if there is anything more to report. This person may have opted to be anonymous, but that anonymity is only as to keep that information from the parent. DCF keeps information of each person that calls the hotline of abuse or neglect. The anonymity is important because DCF needs individuals to make reports of abuse or neglect otherwise, without fear. This may be the only way some kids can get help.

The social worker will call you to make arrangements to come and interview you regarding the investigation. If you take the call, then the DCF will come to your house as planned. They will speak to you about the issues in the case. After speaking with you, the social worker will ask to speak with each of your children alone. They will start with the child who is the subject of the report. They will also speak with any other children. They will also ask to speak with each adult in the home. They do so to make sure they have made contact with each person who has come in contact with the child in question.

If you don’t take the call, then DCF will have to make a determination as to how to proceed. The social worker will consult with his or her management as to how far they should go to make a connection with the family. They may try the house again. They may continue to call. The DCF team could also consider legal avenues such as filing a petition in court asking the Juvenile to intervene.

During the home visit, DCF will ask about the kids’ medical and educational status. Although DCF could be there about a concern of physical abuse, they will need to ensure that the child/children are up to date medically and are going to school on a regular basis. In order to do so, DCF will ask for the parent to sign a release of information. This will allow DCF to contact the doctors and school officials about your child. If the child is in counseling, DCF will also inquire of the counselor the child’s status.

The purpose of all these interviews is to get as clear an understanding of the family’s status. The social worker only has a short period of time to complete the investigation. This does not mean if they finish in time required, that the investigation is invalid, it just means it’s late.

DCF will talk with any other individuals that may be important to completing the investigation. Once the investigation is complete DCF will have to decide whether to substantiate (to find that the child was abused or neglected) or to unsubstantiated (to find that the child was not abused or neglected). They will also determine who is the cause of the abuse or neglect.

The last determination is whether to place someone on the DCF central registry. This registry is a registry for individuals who have been determined to be a danger to children. It is not a public list. However, employers such as schools and daycares can enquire of DCF, in writing, whether or not a potential hire is on the list. The Central Registry does not prevent people from getting a job, that is up to the employer. However, for most schools and daycare facilities, they will not want to hire someone on the DCF Central Registry. It is also important to note if a person is on the Central Registry, it can prevent that person from being a foster parent even for a relative.

Lastly, the social worker will discuss the findings with the supervisor and program manager if necessary. Then will then finalize the investigation by notifying the family of the results. DCF will send a letter detailing the decision made regarding the investigation. The letter will note the following

  1. The type of abuse or neglect that is substantiated or unsubstantiated
  2. If the person will be listed on the DCF central registry
  3. How you may challenge the findings

Challenging the DCF findings is important as it can have a lasting impact on your employment if work with children or your future with your children.

The investigation process can be very difficult to go through. If handled poorly, a parent could find themselves in a juvenile court answering to a judge. In our next post, we will detail your rights as a parent when dealing with DCF.

Daddies and the Family Court

Whether you are like Kevin, the father in my first blog post, or a dad who just wants more time with your child, you may need a Family Court to help you with that goal. Fathers have just as much right to have time with their children as mothers do. However, I have seen many fathers feel frustrated by the court process. I believe the key is to know what to expect in Family Court and being prepared to present your case. We will go over some essential information and tips so you can be as prepared as possible when you go to Family Court. This is not intended to be legal advice, but just helpful information so you know what to expect if you are representing yourself in Family Court.

Family Court Structure and Tips

Family Court is a dedicated court to address the legal matters of divorce, child custody, child support, and restraining orders. In any court, you will find judges, family relations officers, the clerk’s office, a court services center, and marshals. Each has a crucial role, and if you understand their position, it will help you navigate the system better. This blog post is not a complete outline of the system, but to offer some tips on how to handle yourself in court. Each case is different, so no one answer fits all scenarios. However, as Sir Francis Bacon once said: “knowledge is power.” Don’t allow a lack of information to hinder your efforts in being able to spend time with your children.

The Judge

Judges are the final arbitrator on the family court matter at the Superior Court level. They decide the outcome of the case if the parties do not reach an agreement. The Judge will listen to the evidence, hear the arguments by the parties, and then render a decision. The Judge is governed by what we call rules of evidence. https://www.jud.ct.gov/Publications/code2000.pdf. This means not everything you want to come into evidence will be allowed. Only those things that are reliable and relevant to the case and do not violate any of the rules. This can be tricky for anyone new to the court system, but the Judge may remind parties of the rules if she chooses.

  • TIP: make sure when you are presenting your case, you only present facts, and be sure you actually have the proof with you. Text messages, emails, and eye-witnesses are some of the best evidence available to you. Make sure you have three copies of everything: one for the court, one for the opposing side, and one for your use while in court.

Family Relations

Before, going to the Judge, the parties are allowed to speak with a Family Relations Officer. Their role is “to assist the Court and clients in the timely and fair resolution of family and interpersonal conflicts through a comprehensive program of alternative dispute resolution services, case management, evaluation, and education.” (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/Publications/FM211.pdf) The family relations have more time to listen to the two of you and they are not bound by the rules of evidence. Their job is not to make the parties agree, but to find a way to reach a solution. If the parties cannot agree, then the matter may be referred to Family Relations for an evaluation. They will complete an investigation and make a recommendation to the Judge. You may be stuck with the recommendation or have to find a means by which to convince a judge that this is not the right recommendation.

  • TIP: When speaking with family relations, never use the words “my child.” It is better to say, “our child.” This will indicate to the family relations officer that you understand that this child has two parents, and both have an equal interest in having a relationship with the child. Try to be reasonable in all of your requests. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and make sure what you are asking is something you could live with if the shoe were on the other foot. This way, the Family Relations Officer could inadvertently become an advocate. They may say to the opposing party that your request is reasonable and ask what the barrier to an agreement is. The other party may look bad by not agreeing.

Clerk’s Office

The clerk’s office is the keeper of the court records and they understand firsthand the flow of the work that occurs in the courthouse. If you need copies of any prior court orders, you can start there. They will also be able to tell you where you need to go on your court date. When I was a new prosecutor, I decided to make friends in the clerk’s office. I would go in person to speak with them when I had a question and offer assistance when I could. They became a valuable source of information that I needed to do my job effectively. Never underestimate their helpfulness.

  • TIP: The Clerk’s office is not a law firm. They cannot tell you how to proceed with your case and how to get what you want from the court. They are only there to explain the court process. I have seen people become frustrated with the clerk’s office staff because they could not answer questions which are really requests for legal advice. I find the clerk’s office to be an excellent resource for understanding how the court runs. While each court is guided by the same rules and statutes, how it is executed is different everywhere. Before your court date, I suggest going to the clerk’s office after 3 pm when the day’s business is just about concluded, and ask what to expect for your court date based on the matter at hand. They will probably look it up for you, advise of the documents you need, and tell you where to go when you come. Do not wait until the morning of the court date, as they will be too busy to exercise that kind of patience.

Court Services Center

The Court Services Center is designed to help people who are representing themselves. According to the Judicial website, the Court Services Center must “provide services for self-represented parties, members of the bar, and the community at large. They are located within Judicial District Courthouses and are staffed by Judicial Branch employees trained to assist all court patrons.” (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/csc/). The staff there can answer questions related to what you need to file if you are seeking custody, visitation, or child support. They may not be able to tell you how best to present your case, and what evidence you need, but they can answer the questions relevant to where to start the process. They also have computers, printers, a fax machine, and printed guides to help you in the process.

  • TIP: Much like the clerk’s office, the Court Services Center cannot help you with legal advice. However, they can help you start the process if you are not sure where to start. You can also get all the forms that you need there, in the event you don’t have access to a printer at home. I would also advise going in the afternoon when it is not as busy. The staff will have more time and resources available to you then.

Judicial Marshal

When going to court, many will overlook the importance and role of the judicial marshal. Yes, you have to get past dealing with airport-like security checks. However, marshals serve a vital role. They are not only there to keep the peace in the courthouse, but they will be the ones to tell you if and when the court is opening up, whether it is on break, and when it is expected to reopen. This is important because you don’t want to miss your case being called by the Judge. The Judge could dismiss it for your failure to appear in front of the Judge. This means you will have to start the process all over again.

  • TIP: If you have a hostile party on the other side and you are not sure how they will behave towards you in court, stay close to a marshal. Quietly approach a marshal and let them know of your concern and they will endeavor to keep a watch over the situation. No marshal wants a disturbance in the court and they would rather know upfront what to look out for, rather than wait for it to happen unexpectedly.

There are other critical people in court, such as lawyers. Some are there on their client’s behalf, and others are appointed as Guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem acts in the best interest of the child. She makes recommendations to the court as to how best to resolve the matter. The attorney must be appointed by the court, but the parties have to pay for their services. Cases with lawyers are often called first as lawyers tend to be busy and it is costly to have them in court all day. This means those without attorneys could be called later in the day or at times at the end of the day. Prepare to be patient.

How to Prepare for Your Court Date

Here some important steps and tips for anyone going to court, especially dads, who do not have custody. These steps and tips do not guarantee that you have the outcome you desire, but it may lessen the stress and anxiety that occurs when going to court and give a greater chance at success.

  1. On a day before your actual court date, locate the court, and figure out the parking. Every courthouse is different. Some have free parking, some have only paid-parking areas. However, for some courthouses, free parking may be a block away from the court. You need to be sure of where you are going to avoid dealing with parking tickets or arriving late because you do not know where to go.
  2. On your “field trip” to the court, locate the court services center. Inform the staff of your pending petition in court and ask them what to expect. Inquire if you need to bring any documents with you. At the very least, they will let you know where you need to report to when you come to court. They will also have brochures and other ready materials that may help determine what to ask for while in court.
  3. If you filed the petition, contact the clerk’s office at least 10 days before the court date to make sure they received proof of service. If you submitted the application, the clerk’s office should have directed you to get those documents to a marshal so that the other party can be served. This is a necessary step as the party has a right to know what you filed in court, and the Judge will not proceed without proof this was done. Therefore, you need to check back with the clerk to make sure the marshal sent the proof of service to the court. Make sure to keep the name and number of the marshal you used as you may have to track down the marshal yourself. You can find the list of marshals in the State of Connecticut on the Connecticut Judicial Website. (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/faq/marshals.htm)
  4. On your date, you will need to be directed to either wait for the court call – this is when the court calls the names on the docket to see who is present and who is ready to proceed. After your name is called, the court will either direct you to a courtroom or tell you to see family relations. As noted above, when you go to family relations, the Family Relations officer is tasked with determining if you and the other party can reach an agreement as to petition. If you can’t reach an agreement, the Judge will determine the next steps. They may send you back to family relations to try again at an agreement, ask family relations to do an evaluation, or allow you both to present evidence so that the court can make a decision.
  5. Keep your child’s best interest at the center. This is not the time to seek vindication or revenge. It is time to demonstrate what you believe is needed for your child to have a good relationship with both parents.
  6. Stay laser-focused on why you have come to court. If you are seeking to spend more time with your child, then don’t leave until a decision is made about that request. Let the other party argue and fight. It is best if you remain calm and clear about what you want to accomplish.
  7. Be ready to compromise. Honestly, the best agreements in family court are the ones where no one is completely happy with the outcome. This means both parties gave up something so that an agreement can be reached. If you stay focused on being the “winner,” you could end up losing everything you actually wanted.

Conclusion:

I have heard that Family Court in Connecticut is a “women’s court.” The mother always gets her way, and she always ends up with the child. This, however, is a very limited view of the general purpose of the family court, which is to resolve family matters. The party that has the law and evidence on its side is more than likely to prevail. However, when it comes to children’s matters, the priority is not the satisfaction and happiness of the parents. The priority is what is the best interest of the child or children involved. If you keep this at the forefront and as the focus of your efforts, you may be able to prevail in court. In turn, this may be your best course in ensuring you give your child the best opportunity at growing up with “a daddy of his own.”

Family court isn’t the only place a father’s voice needs to be heard. There is also a Juvenile Court, which is VERY different from the Family court. I would argue the stakes are even higher in Juvenile Court, which makes a father’s involvement even more important. In part 4 of “A Daddy of My Own Series, we will discuss Daddies and DCF.