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  • Writer's pictureNicole Christie

Special Education Issues with DCF Cases

Suspicions of child abuse or neglect are taken seriously in Connecticut. Like most states, Connecticut has a mandated reporter statute, which requires certain professionals to notify the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) of suspected abuse or neglect cases. This often triggers an investigation by the agency. But there can be massive complications when there are special education issues involved.

What is the Mandated Reporter Statute in Connecticut?

According to Connecticut Statutes Section 17a-101, certain professionals are required to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect to the appropriate agency (DCF). The purpose of this law is to “protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected through injury and neglect; to strengthen the family and to make the home safe for children by enhancing the parental capacity for good child care; to provide a temporary or permanent nurturing and safe environment for children when necessary…”

The statute provides a long list of mandated reporters. Among them are physicians, nurses, social workers, paid childcare workers, and school employees, just to name a few. If any of these professionals have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect, they are required to file a verbal report with DCF within 12 hours and a written report within 48 hours.

How Special Education Issues Can Complicate DCF Cases

While investigations by government agencies are supposed to be fair, recent studies show they can be incredibly biased and unfair, particularly when there are special education issues involved. A recent series written by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit organization, revealed many schools nationwide have misused their DCF reporting authority when children in the school make learning challenging or when parents don’t agree to special education services for their children.

Children with learning challenges like ADHD or mood disorders may act out in the classroom. When the school wants one thing for the child, and the parents want something different, this can put the two parties at odds. Unfortunately, schools have the power to contact the state’s child welfare hotline to ask for an investigation.

Sometimes those calls from schools are malicious. But other instances are due to legitimate concerns about overlooking at-risk children. Some schools are simply overzealous in calling in allegations over minor issues like unexplained scratches, stained clothing, or missing shoelaces.

Bias can also play a role in whether families are referred to DCF. In many investigations, minority families are disproportionately chosen for mandatory reporting calls. Nationally, black children are about twice as likely as white children to enter foster care. Low-income families become targets as well because poverty can be easily confused with neglect.

One of the primary issues with DCF involvement is that it has historically been antagonistic. Instead of taking a supportive role with parents and their children, they become adversaries.

What Happens After a Report to DCF is Made?

Once DCF receives one of these mandatory reporter notifications, they must investigate the allegations. This usually triggers a home visit by a DCF investigator, which can be intimidating and have far-reaching consequences.

A DCF investigator will usually show up at your home unannounced and ask to interview you and your child. Many parents don’t realize that you don’t have to submit to these interviews without a lawyer present. You have the right to ask the investigator to come back another time after you have the opportunity to consult with an attorney.

If DCF finds the allegations of abuse or neglect are substantiated, they may recommend that your child be removed from the home. At this point, you will have to fight to be reunited with your child, which can be an exhausting and stressful battle.

Your relationship with the mandatory reporter, which might be the school, is also an ongoing question. Having a teacher or school accusing a parent of abuse or neglect can be damaging, which is something you’ll want to address moving forward.

Contact an Experienced Connecticut DCF Defense Attorney Today

A school’s reporting of abuse or neglect is a serious matter. When you have a disagreement or misunderstanding about special education services, this only complicates the issue. While you have rights, DCF isn’t going to tell you what they are, which puts your child and your bond with them at risk.

The Christie Law Firm, LLC specializes in fighting for the rights of clients who are facing DCF investigations. Attorney Christies has years of experience dealing with this system and will do everything possible to prevent having your child removed from your home. Please call (860) 471-7494 or reach out to us online to schedule an initial consultation.

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