Connecticut DCF Substantiation Hearings
When a parent or a caregiver/guardian receives notice from the Department of Children and Families that they are being investigated based on allegations of child abuse and neglect, it’s perfectly normal to feel unsettled, nervous, and even very upset. Much worse than the investigation itself, though, is a finding that is substantiated, which means that evidence collected by the DCF during the investigatory process substantiates the allegations against you.
If the findings against you are substantiated at the conclusion of a DCF investigation, you maintain the right to appeal those findings during what’s known as a substantiation hearing. The outcome of a substantiation hearing will have a major impact on the legal relationship you maintain with your child moving into the future. To protect yourself and your child, you need a skilled DCF attorney who is experienced in substantiation hearing cases. For the legal support and advocacy you can count on, call The Christie Law Firm, LLC today.
What is a Substantiation Hearing?
DCF has 45 days from the date they open their initial investigation to substantiate the allegations. If they are unable to substantiate the allegations, the case will be closed, and your dealings with DCF should come to an end. Not many cases reach this conclusion.
DCF will substantiate any allegations where they believe there was a “reasonable cause” the events occurred. Unfortunately, this is an ambiguous and low standard. If DCF does substantiate allegations against you, there are two possible types of findings.
Substantiation Recorded in Central Registry
In addition to substantiating the abuse or neglect findings against you, DCF may recommend that the information be recorded on DCF’s Central Child Abuse Registry. While this isn’t a public registry, many people can access it. Among them are employers and landlords doing background checks. Some people are automatically recommended for inclusion on this registry, such as anyone with a substantiated finding of sexual abuse.
Requesting a Substantiation Hearing
After the DCF concludes its investigation, it will issue the findings of that investigation in writing. If the DCF determines that the allegations of child abuse or neglect against you are substantiated, then you have a right to request a hearing as an appellate. You can do this via the notice that is included in the DCF investigatory results, which must include:
- The basis for DCF’s finding;
- A statement that your name will be placed on the abuse and neglect registry unless you file an appeal;
- A description of the potential consequences you may face as a result of being placed on the abuse and neglect registry;
- Your right to bring forth an administrative appeal; and
- A form you can sign indicating whether or not you want to appeal.
If you do wish to appeal your case, you will need to fill out the attached form and return it.
What Happens During a Substantiation Hearing?
During a hearing, you will be able to present both oral and documentary evidence supporting your case; note, however, that the child involved in the case is not allowed to testify. The burden of proof is on the DCF, which must prove that the complaint of child abuse or neglect is supported by a preponderance of the evidence, which essentially means that is is more likely than not true.
After the hearing has been completed, the hearing officer will issue a decision within 30 days. Note that if you disagree with the decision of the hearing officer, you maintain the right to appeal in Superior Court.
Receipt of a Substantiation Hearing Decision
Within one month of the hearing’s completion, you will be mailed a memorandum of decision that includes the facts and conclusions of the hearing, as well as the hearing officer’s reasoning for the decision. It’s important to note that while the decision issued by a substantiation hearing officer can feel binding and final, if you disagree with it, you do have the right to appeal. To do so, you will file an administrative appeal with the Superior Court, which will consider all materials in the hearing record.
Preparing for a Substantiation Hearing
If a finding of substantiation has been made against you and you are preparing for a substantiation hearing, it is strongly recommended that you partner with a skilled attorney who has experienced going before DCF in substantiation hearings and other juvenile court cases. Your attorney will help you by:
- Ensuring that you file a request for hearing within the required time period (30 days within receiving the results of DCF’s investigation);
- Reviewing DCF’s decision and documentation and correcting any errors;
- Preparing evidence that you can submit during the hearing process;
- Helping you to prepare for what questions to expect and how to respond to the hearing officer;
- Recruiting witnesses to testify at your hearing and cross-examining all witnesses;
- Representing you during the hearing process;
- Advising you on best practices and etiquette for your hearing;
- Helping you to appeal a hearing decision if necessary.
If your case does not resolve favorably, your DCF case attorney can also advise you of other options that you have and what steps to take next. While you are not legally required to work with an attorney, doing so is very much within your best interests.
Appealing DCF’s Decision with a Substantiation Hearing
If DCF substantiates the allegations, whether they place your name on their registry or not, you should appeal the decision. A substantiation can have lasting consequences for you and your children, including the removal of children from your home and the possible termination of your parental rights.
By law, the agency must provide written notice to you when it makes its substantiation ruling. If you wish to appeal the decision, you have just 30 days to sign and return the form to the agency requesting an appeal. You also have the right to request copies of all investigation results.
When you make this request, this triggers an internal “pre-hearing” process. During this process, DCF will internally review the case again, and there is a chance that the decision could be reversed. If this review re-affirms the decision, you will be notified once again. The case will be assigned to a hearing officer, and a substantiation hearing will be scheduled.
What to Expect from The Christie Law Firm, LLC
When you are involved in a DCF case and have had a substantiation finding issued, you have a lot on the line, including the risk of having your child taken from you. Not only is it important to hire an attorney as soon as possible, but to hire an attorney who is well-versed in DCF cases and who has a strong track record of success.
At The Christie Law Firm, LLC, you can count on a lawyer who is experienced, compassionate, committed, and a law firm that has the resources your case demands. Knowing how important the outcome of your case is and how much you stand to lose, Attorney Nicole Christie will fight for you.
As a previous social worker and supervisor for the Department of Families and Children for over a decade, Attorney Christie brings a unique perspective and understanding to the DCF cases she works on. She is a staunch supporter of the rights of children and families, and will approach your case with the level of both drive and compassion that you deserve.
Call The Christie Law Firm, LLC Today for Help
Department of Families and Children cases can be very complex. At the conclusion of an investigation, the DCF may issue a finding of substantiation. If you don’t act quickly, you may lose your opportunity to dispute this finding and protect your and your child’s interests. For the legal support you need after a finding of substantiation has been issued (including support throughout the substantiation hearing process and the appeals process if necessary), call The Christie Law Firm, LLC today or send us a message online. You can reach us at (860) 461-7494.