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.
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!