One of the scariest calls you can get is from a DCF worker. DCF stands for the Department of Children and Families. In Connecticut, they have the task of protecting the welfare of children located in the State of Connecticut. According to DCF, “the mission of the Department of Children and Families is to protect children, improve child and family wellbeing, and support and preserve families.” This is taken from the Parent’s Right to Know brochure given to each parent. (See https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/DCF/Brochures/PRTKEnglish-2019.pdf?la=en).
This mission statement sounds ok until you realize what DCF has the power to do. They can investigate your entire family and make a determination if your children should remain in your care. Knowing this power, you have to do more than read a brochure. You need to understand their goals and procedures when you are being investigated by DCF so you know how best to deal with DCF if they call.
In this blog, I will outline the overall procedure of each investigation. This is to give you some insight into what to expect. In the next post, I will give explanations about your rights as parents. The final post in this series will give some tips on what to do if DCF has called you. The goal is not to give legal advice on to handle your case because each case is different. The goal is to help you understand the role and function of the DCF investigation so that you can be prepared.
DCF is one agency that doesn’t need to look for work, it comes to them. A call comes into the DCF hotline number (1-800-842-2288). A social worker responds and asks a series of questions about the case. They need to know more than just general compliant, names and addresses. They may do a preliminary investigation over the phone to determine as much information as possible. They ask about others in the home. They ask about issues of drug use or domestic violence. They need to know all the issues as much as possible before making a determination of what is next.
After the call, the social worker in connection with a supervisor will determine how best to proceed. If they determine that there is not enough to proceed with an investigation because there is not enough information or the issue does not include issues of abuse or neglect then the call goes no further. If there is a valid concern of abuse or neglect, then the call is coded for the type of response needed.
From there, the report is sent to the office covering the town where the child is located. The social worker has to initiate contact with the family by making a telephone call or visiting the home if necessary. After the call is made, the investigator will begin the investigation.
The investigation typically starts with contacting the reporter. The investigator will see if there is anything more to report. This person may have opted to be anonymous, but that anonymity is only as to keep that information from the parent. DCF keeps information of each person that calls the hotline of abuse or neglect. The anonymity is important because DCF needs individuals to make reports of abuse or neglect otherwise, without fear. This may be the only way some kids can get help.
The social worker will call you to make arrangements to come and interview you regarding the investigation. If you take the call, then the DCF will come to your house as planned. They will speak to you about the issues in the case. After speaking with you, the social worker will ask to speak with each of your children alone. They will start with the child who is the subject of the report. They will also speak with any other children. They will also ask to speak with each adult in the home. They do so to make sure they have made contact with each person who has come in contact with the child in question.
If you don’t take the call, then DCF will have to make a determination as to how to proceed. The social worker will consult with his or her management as to how far they should go to make a connection with the family. They may try the house again. They may continue to call. The DCF team could also consider legal avenues such as filing a petition in court asking the Juvenile to intervene.
During the home visit, DCF will ask about the kids’ medical and educational status. Although DCF could be there about a concern of physical abuse, they will need to ensure that the child/children are up to date medically and are going to school on a regular basis. In order to do so, DCF will ask for the parent to sign a release of information. This will allow DCF to contact the doctors and school officials about your child. If the child is in counseling, DCF will also inquire of the counselor the child’s status.
The purpose of all these interviews is to get as clear an understanding of the family’s status. The social worker only has a short period of time to complete the investigation. This does not mean if they finish in time required, that the investigation is invalid, it just means it’s late.
DCF will talk with any other individuals that may be important to completing the investigation. Once the investigation is complete DCF will have to decide whether to substantiate (to find that the child was abused or neglected) or to unsubstantiated (to find that the child was not abused or neglected). They will also determine who is the cause of the abuse or neglect.
The last determination is whether to place someone on the DCF central registry. This registry is a registry for individuals who have been determined to be a danger to children. It is not a public list. However, employers such as schools and daycares can enquire of DCF, in writing, whether or not a potential hire is on the list. The Central Registry does not prevent people from getting a job, that is up to the employer. However, for most schools and daycare facilities, they will not want to hire someone on the DCF Central Registry. It is also important to note if a person is on the Central Registry, it can prevent that person from being a foster parent even for a relative.
Lastly, the social worker will discuss the findings with the supervisor and program manager if necessary. Then will then finalize the investigation by notifying the family of the results. DCF will send a letter detailing the decision made regarding the investigation. The letter will note the following
- The type of abuse or neglect that is substantiated or unsubstantiated
- If the person will be listed on the DCF central registry
- How you may challenge the findings
Challenging the DCF findings is important as it can have a lasting impact on your employment if work with children or your future with your children.
The investigation process can be very difficult to go through. If handled poorly, a parent could find themselves in a juvenile court answering to a judge. In our next post, we will detail your rights as a parent when dealing with DCF.