This is the next post in my series on the handling of Department of Children and Families (DCF) cases in Melbourne, Florida. My last article provided an overview of the topics which this series will be addressing. It also stressed the need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible if you or a loved one have had a dependency case opened. It is important that you speak with counsel sooner, rather than later, as the well-being of your child is at stake in the matter. I will be using this article to provide an overview of the process one should expect after a case has been initiated. If you find yourself in such a situation then contact us immediately to speak with a lawyer.
Dependency cases are opened as a result of a report being filed with the Department of Children and Families. Such matters can stem from claims of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. A report made to DCF can stem from several sources. These sources can include “mandatory reporters,” who are obligated to report such treatment if they believe it to be occurring. Mandatory reporters include school teachers, psychologists, physicians, etc. Reports can also be made by the child’s other parent, neighbors, or anyone who believes that such conduct is occurring. DCF will investigate the matter once a report is made. This investigation will result in DCF deciding whether to substantiate the case and open a dependency matter or in the agency deciding to close the matter as unsubstantiated. The steps the agency will take in investigating the matter, and how to proceed, will always depend on the specific facts of the situation.
If a dependency action is taken then the initial part of the process will proceed rather quickly. Depending on the allegations and circumstances, the agency may immediately remove the child from the home. This does not always happen, however. If the child is removed, then the Court will quickly hold a “shelter” hearing to decide where the child should reside while the case proceeds. The Court’s first preference will typically be to have the child reside with their other parent. If this is not feasible, or if this is not in the child’s best interests, then the Court will typically look to other relatives. If this is not a viable option, then child will go to a short-term foster care and will be under the supervision of the foster family as well as DCF. A number of hearings will be held, to check on the status and well being of the child, as the case proceeds.
Depending on the severity of the situation, a “case plan” will be put together by DCF and other relevant parties. This plan will lay out steps and requirements which must be met for the child to return home or for the offending parent to regain visitation (child custody proceedings may be initiated by the other parent after the matter concludes). If the conditions of the Court are satisfied, then the child will likely return home with ongoing status checks. If the situation is not rectified, or if returning home is simply not in the child’s best interests, then a trial will be scheduled absent some other resolution. In very extreme cases (such as those involving sexual abuse), DCF may attempt to terminate the parental rights of the offending parent.
How any DCF case will proceed is always going to depend on the specifics of the situation. Furthermore, no two cases are the same. It is, therefore, imperative that you speak with an experienced abuse & neglect attorney as soon as possible if you find yourself in such a situation. Our Melbourne lawyers handle dependency matters and we believe that everyone is entitled to aggressive representation. This is a serious time in your life and we will give your case the attention it deserves. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation. We also serve the cities of Titusville, Cocoa, Palm Bay, Grant, Valkaria, and Rockledge, as well as in the Indian River County areas of Fellsmere, Sebastian, Vero Beach, Indian River Shores, and Orchid.