In our previous post (see: https://www.thechristielawfirm.com/post/what-to-do-if-dcf-calls-you) we discussed the general outline of a DCF investigation. It is good to understand what to expect when DCF begins an investigation regarding you and your family. In Part 2, we will review the parents’ rights to know. This post is to give you a general outline of what is included in the Parents Right to Know brochure and some implications. (See: https://portal.ct.gov/DCF/Multicultural-Affairs/Parents-Right-to-Know) This is not to give you the legal advice you need in dealing with DCF. However, we do hope that you will see how important your rights are as a parent, and not be afraid to exercise those rights.
Outline of the brochure
One of the first things you notice when you research the DCF website for the Parents Right to Know is that it is provided to you in eight different languages. (See https://portal.ct.gov/DCF/Multicultural-Affairs/Parents-Right-to-Know). If an agency takes the time to translate a document in eight different languages it is a strong indication that it is important for everyone to know. My advice is if DCF calls you, first take the time to read the document in the language you understand best.
Here are the initial rights as outlined in the brochure:
“In accordance with Connecticut law, you have the following rights regarding your child ________________.”
“You are not required to permit a DCF employee to enter your residence. You are not required to speak with a DCF employee.”
Implications: You can choose to meet DCF somewhere other than your home or you can opt to not meet with DCF at all. The implications are that if DCF feels that the situation requires seeing the home and speaking to the family in order to ensure that the children are safe, they may seek Juvenile court intervention. You will have to decide if you want to take that risk depending on your situation.
“You are entitled to seek the advice of an attorney and to have that attorney present when a DCF employee questions you.”
Implications: You can ask them to wait until you get advice from an attorney. DCF will not wait for an extended period of time, but it does give you an opportunity to at least consult with an attorney. You may also have an attorney present with you at home or anywhere you choose to meet with DCF. I have often done this with my clients. It helps to have an advocate there from the very beginning so that the investigation doesn’t go in the wrong direction.
“Any statement you or your family members make to a DCF employee may be used against you in court or administrative proceedings.”
Implications: This is absolutely true! You may think you are explaining the situation for yourself. However, DCF could read that explanation as further evidence of neglect or abuse. It is important to answer only the questions asked of you or seek the assistance of an attorney to help you decide what you should or should not say.
“A DCF social worker is not an attorney and cannot provide you with legal advice.”
Implications: This is true, but I have seen where DCF workers may “suggest” what you should do regarding your children. They will never say “my legal advice to is…” However, telling you how to handle a custody situation is legal advice. Be careful in regards to taking any legal action in court at the advice of a DCF worker. The concern is if called to testify in court, a DCF SW could deny giving you legal advice as they are not lawyers. It will appear as though you are using them to meet your own legal agenda.
“You are not required to sign any document presented to you by a DCF employee and you are entitled to have your attorney review any document before you sign it. This includes, for example, a release of claims or a service agreement.”
Implications: This is correct and you should exercise this right. You should find out what DCF needs to know about you or your children, and then provide that information in writing to them without signing a release. For example, if they need to know if the kids are up to date medically, ask their doctor’s office to write a letter for you to that effect, then provide that to DCF. DCF may ask you to sign safety agreements or service agreements in order to provide a safeguard for your children. These have serious legal consequences and you need to seek the advice of an attorney before signing any agreements.
“Please be advised that choosing not to communicate with a DCF employee may have serious consequences, which may include DCF filing a petition to remove your child from your home. It is, therefore, in your best interests to either speak with the DCF employee or immediately seek the advice of an attorney.”
Implications: This is also correct. DCF has a tremendous task and that is to safeguard the children that come to their attention or that are in their care. Any time a child dies in CT from abuse, the first question asked: “what did DCF do to protect this child?” It is scary to know a child was severely abused or neglected while you were the social worker on the case. Knowing this, a DCF social worker will often do what is necessary to ensure that the child is safe even if means filing petitions against you. If the situation is serious, and you are afraid to deal with it alone, you should call an attorney for assistance. One who knows about DCF and has practiced in this area. Too much is at stake for someone who is not clear on how to handle the case.
There are other rights, noted in the brochure. These rights are to be insisted upon regardless of the nature of the investigation. No parent is perfect, and children do not come with instructions! Therefore, parents will make mistakes and some of those mistakes may come to DCF’s attention. In any event, insist on the following rights when dealing with DCF. Do not allow anyone to make you feel as if you are not deserving of the right to be your child’s parent.
The additional rights are:
- “You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity.”
- “You have the right to have an interpreter present to assist you to understand all of the proceedings in your case.”
- “You have the right to request that all of the documents related to your case be translated into your primary language.”
- “You have the right to request and receive thorough and understandable answers to any questions you may have about the Department’s involvement with your family.”
- “You have the right to have any person of your choosing (such as a friend, relative or clergyperson) present during meetings with DCF unless a court order forbids the involvement of that person.”
- “You have the right to request and receive the information contained in the Department’s records about the investigation and findings concerning you and your child(ren). Access to the identity of the person(s) who reported suspected abuse or neglect may be restricted.”
- “You have the right to privacy. Records regarding you and your family will not be publicly released by the Department without your permission unless authorized by law. However, information may be disclosed to other agencies for investigation, treatment or other purposes as permitted by law.”
- “You have the right to have information about your case expunged under certain circumstances.”
- “You have the right to contact the DCF Ombudsman’s Office for assistance in resolving any dispute you may have with DCF staff, providers or foster parents. The Ombudsman can be reached from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Monday thru Friday at (860) 550-6301.”
All of the rights noted above are important in every case. However, how you exercise these rights can have different consequences because each case is treated differently based on the facts presented. For example, DCF’s approach to your child missing too many days from school will be very different than their approach to a report of sexual abuse. The key is to understand your rights and take whatever steps necessary to protect your family. In some cases, you could probably handle DCF on your own as the situation may not be serious. However, if it is serious and you don’t handle correctly, DCF may take an approach that could lead to Juvenile Court. Advocating for yourself is important, but when dealing with an agency like DCF you may want to find someone who can advocate with you. Your family’s future may depend on it.
Contact our office if you need help: (860) 461-7494 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.