Florida has broad laws requiring that a report to be made to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) whenever there is suspicion of child abuse, child neglect, or abandonment. In fact, the failure to report such incidents may be a crime as well. The laws also protect the person reporting the incidents from liability, as long as the report is made in good faith.
While everyone would agree that such laws are beneficial and necessary, far too often those reporting such incidents are erring on the side of caution and, as a result, end up report innocuous events. For example, if a child breaks an arm without other witnesses present that could verify the absence of abuse, someone may report the injury to DCF. Because of Florida’s sweeping laws, the burden in a DCF investigation is often put on the accused to prove that there is no abuse.
In some cases, DCF is called in falsely and this happens far too often during the course of a divorce, particularly because child abuse is not the only reason that a DCF action is initiated. Allegations of criminal conduct, such as the possession of marijuana or domestic violence, can result in an investigation by DCF and the removal of a child. This can happen even if the state does not ultimately file criminal charges or if the criminal case is dismissed.
Many people that become the subject of a DCF investigation are often surprised to learn that DCF is entitled to keep the identity of the reporter confidential, which limits the ability to address possible motive, bias, or credibility issues. In addition, Florida law allows DCF to question a child outside the presence of the parents.
The burden for DCF to remove a child from a parent is relatively low and may be based completely on hearsay. DCF often uses this leverage to pressure the accused to consent to a finding of dependency. Too often, parents do so without understanding their rights.
Anyone can report a parent for child neglect or abuse. Once a report is made, Florida DCF will send an investigator to the home and that investigator has the authority to remove the child from the home and temporarily place that child in foster care or with a relative. If you are being prevented from seeing your children, a qualified family law attorney can come to your defense.
Dependency proceedings, like criminal proceedings, have mandatory time frames in which certain hearings and other matters must be conducted. Additionally, a party affected by a dependency proceeding must be aware of their right to counsel and generally speaking a Guardian Ad Litem is appointed to represent the interests of the child(ren) involved.
Once a child is removed from a home by DCF the court must hold a “Shelter Hearing” within 24 hours from the time of removal. This hearing is similar to a first appearance in a criminal case, and the parents will be heard at that time and evidence will be presented on whether there is sufficient evidence to shelter the child. There are certain rights that the parents of the child(ren) are entitled to at the hearing which are governed by Florida Statutes Chapter 39. At the time of hearing, the court will enter written findings of facts regarding whether placement in shelter care is in the best interests of the child.
Within 28 days after the shelter hearing or within 7 days of the date the dependency petition is filed if the child is in an out-of-home placement, the Arraignment hearing must take place. The happenings of at the Arraignment Hearing is governed by Florida Statutes 39.506. At the Arraignment a parent is asked by the court to admit or deny the allegations made by DCF. NEVER admit to any DCF allegations at either a Shelter Hearing or an Arraignment without the assistance and advice of legal counsel.
We will advocate for you at every stage of a dependency action against you, including the hearing and trial. We have over 20 years of experience helping parents by:
For legal advice on dependency cases call the attorneys at Allen & Abaray, P.A. One of our experienced attorneys will be happy to answer all of your questions during a free consultation.
For over twenty years, the law firm of Allen & Abaray, P.A. has provided exceptional statewide representation for injury victims, and the families of those who are injured or killed by the conduct of others. While our personal injury lawyers are based in Lakeland, we represent clients throughout the State of Florida.
Allen & Abaray, P.A. offers a free consultation in all personal injury cases. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in any type of accident, call (863) 669-9999 or toll-free at (877) 669-6899 today to speak with a Lakeland personal injury attorney about your case. We won’t charge an attorney’s fee unless we recover money for your injuries.*