Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Juvenile Court
While the state recognizes that parents have a right to physical and legal custody of their minor children, the state also recognizes the importance of protecting minor children from any instances of abuse or neglect. As such, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) exists to investigate any allegations of abuse or neglect, as well as take certain actions to protect a child if allegations of abuse or neglect are substantiated. This process happens through the juvenile court system.
At the office of The Christie Law Firm, LLC, we understand that navigating the juvenile court system during a DCF case can be both confusing and emotional, and that you may be frustrated, scared, and unsure of what your rights are or how to improve your chances of being allowed to stay with your child. For the legal support and guidance you need, call our law office today.
An Overview of Child Protection Cases and the Juvenile Court System
A child protection case through DCF begins when a person files a report of suspicion of abuse/neglect with DCF. Some parties who file these reports are mandatory reporters, which means that they are legally obligated to report abuse or neglect if they suspect it.
For example, teachers and doctors are mandatory reporters. However, DCF is equally as obligated to open a child protection case if an allegation is brought forth by someone who is not a mandatory reporter, such as a neighbor who believes that the child is being denied adequate care or physically or emotionally harmed.
Once DCF has received a report of abuse or neglect, the next step is to open an investigation to determine whether or not the allegations are true. The investigatory process can be intensive and feel invasive for families, as DCF may conduct numerous home visits and interviews. At the conclusion of the investigation process, DCF will issue a finding.
If the allegations of abuse or neglect are unsubstantiated, the case will be dropped; if the allegations of abuse or neglect are substantiated, the DCF will move forward with the case by filing a petition in the juvenile court. (Note: if there is a substantiated finding, you have the right to appeal the finding within 30 days at a substantiation hearing. Talk to an attorney to learn more about substantiation hearings.)
The specific action that the DCF will take if it files a petition in the juvenile court system which states that it believes that a child is being abused or neglected will vary depending on the extent of the findings and the specific risks to the child. DCF may try to have the child removed from the home while the case is pending in order to protect the child from further harm.
The next stage in the process is the actual court process, during which a parent or parents are legally entitled to legal representation – those parents who are indigent will have an attorney provided for them by the court. The DCF will be represented by the AAG (Assistant Attorney General).
What to Know About a DCF Juvenile Court Case
If you have not already hired an attorney at this point in the process, it is critical that you do so. Once your case enters the juvenile system and you go to court, you’ll want someone on your side who can explain the law, the process, and your rights.
One important thing to know is that after DCF has filed its petition and lawyers have been hired or appointed, a parent will have the opportunity to either dispute DCFs allegations (petition) or agree with the petition and DCF’s findings. If a parent does not dispute the petition, then the case will not go to trial; if the parent does contest DCF’s petition and allegation, then the case will proceed to trial.
During the trial, or hearing, both parties will have the opportunity to present all necessary and relevant evidence to support their case, including documents, witness testimony, and other evidence.
At the conclusion of this hearing, the judge will issue a determination. If the parent is successful in contesting DCF’s allegations, then the case will be dismissed; if the parent is unsuccessful and the judge concludes that the child is abused or neglected, then the case will be referred for a dispositional hearing.
Dispositional Hearings in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases
During a dispositional hearing, the court will consider the various options in front of it that may be implemented in order to best protect the child. Options available include:
- The parent should retain full custody of the child (this may include an order or recommendation that the family is referred to a community provider/therapist);
- The parent should retain full custody of the child, but DCF should supervise that custody (i.e. regular home visits and check-ins);
- The child’s best interests would be served if custody/guardianship of the child was to be transferred to another party, such as a relative; or
- The child’s best interests would be served if the rights of the parent to custody were to be temporarily suspended and the child were to be removed and placed in the custody of DCF (this is called commitment).
For parents, the last two options can be terrifying. Children are usually only removed from the home if their safety and wellbeing are under threat. Note that in severe cases, the court may pursue Termination of Parental Rights, which is the legal removal of all of the rights of a parent in regard to their child, making the child eligible for adoption or emancipation.
Get Help with Your DCF Case Today
If you are being investigated by DCF, you need a lawyer on your side who can help you at all stages of the process. As a former DCF social worker, Attorney Nicole Christie is intimately familiar with the DCF process and will know how to best protect your and your child’s interest throughout the juvenile court process. For a consultation with The Christie Law Firm, LLC, please send our law office a message or call directly today at (860) 461-7494.