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  • Writer's pictureNicole Christie

DCF Investigations of a School

The term “abuse” in a school setting has been traditionally associated with sexual misconduct. But abuse can take several different forms. Child abuse can be categorized as sexual abuse, physical abuse, and child neglect. When these happen at a school, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) may become involved.

DCF investigations of a school aren’t nearly as common as those directly involving parents. But any abuse investigations are something you want to take seriously, whether you are an administrator, an accused educator, or the parent of a child who has been abused.

What is Institutional Abuse and Neglect?

Institutional abuse and neglect take place outside the home in private settings or in the community. This type of abuse or neglect is also known as “extra-familial or “out-of-home” abuse or neglect. It typically involves a child and an adult in a supervisory role, like a teacher, volunteer, or caregiver. Unfortunately, studies show that abused and neglected children are at higher risk for lower academic achievement. Children who endure these issues are much more likely to drop out of school early and suffer negative economic and psychosocial consequences.

The Role of DCF in Connecticut and Its Schools

The Connecticut DCF works together with families and communities “to improve child safety, ensure that more children have permanent families, and advance the overall well-being of children.” DCF’s primary role is to protect children who are being abused or neglected through various initiatives. Many contacts with DCF take place in the child’s home. But some of them take place outside the home, such as in schools. This makes sense because it is where children spend the majority of their time outside the home. While they are supposed to be in the care of trained, trusted, and caring adults, this doesn’t always happen.

In 2011, the state of Connecticut passed a new law (Public Act 11-93), which imposes new requirements intended to protect children from abuse by school employees. This law was in response to a report issued in 2010 from the Attorney General and the Office of the Child Advocate. The report, titled “Protecting Our Children: Improving Protections for Children When Allegations Are Made that School System Personnel Abuse or Neglect Children,” was issued after a lengthy investigation.

The new law was meant to address weaknesses in a system that is intended to protect children from abuse and neglect. According to the investigation results, the State Department of Education previously had the authority to check the DCF registry before issuing teacher and administrator licenses. But the department and many schools weren’t checking the registry.

The new law requires that this check take place. It also requires that both schools and the Department of Education keep track of allegations of abuse or neglect against teachers or administrators. In the past, school districts didn’t always cooperate with DCF investigations. This law makes full cooperation a requirement and outlines mandated reporting situations.

When DCF Investigates a School in Connecticut

In early 2020, the Connecticut DCF created two new units dedicated to the investigation of DCF reports concerning school employees in their professional capacity with students. These special units consist of ten social workers in total, who are in charge of investigating allegations against school employees with a mandate to complete investigations in 33 business days. Under this relatively new program, DCF will communicate the results of any investigations it undertakes with the Superintendent of the particular school district and the State Department of Education.

As a teacher or school administrator, it’s important to take any contact from DCF seriously, whether you’ve done something wrong or not. All too often, it’s easy to think that DCF won’t find anything in their investigation. Maybe if you just explain what happened, they will understand and close their case.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens. It’s part of a DCF investigator’s job to make the subject of an investigation feel comfortable, so they disclose information and potentially admit wrongdoing. If DCF does decide to enter supported findings of abuse or neglect against you or the school, this can be a precursor to civil and criminal troubles in your future.

To avoid long-term involvement with DCF, it’s essential to safeguard and exercise your rights. A seasoned DCF attorney can guide you through this process.

Speak With an Experienced Connecticut DCF Defense Attorney

A DCF investigation of your school is serious. But an allegation is not proof of wrongdoing. If you or your school have been notified of a DCF investigation, protecting your rights is vital.

Attorney Christie with The Christie Law Firm has extensive experience handling Connecticut DCF cases. She was recently a prosecutor in the Tolland Judicial District and has successfully negotiated over 1,000 cases for clients. Contact our office today to schedule an initial consultation to learn more about your options.

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