A phone call or visit from DCF can be unnerving to say the least. This guide provides practical advice on how to handle the situation.
When a phone call is made to the Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE the person taking the call obtains information about the allegations, and makes an initial assessment about the gravity of the situation. Is the call a true, life-threatening emergency? Is the call a bitter ex-spouse trying to get the other ex-spouse in trouble? Or something in between? Exigent circumstances generally result in quick dispatch of a Child Protective Investigator, who is often accompanied by a law enforcement officer.
DCF showed up at my house and started asking questions. Should I cooperate?
Generally speaking, yes, but there are exceptions. In the optimal situation, DCF is simply investigating a situation to make sure that the children are safe. They need to meet with you, gather information, check out your home, maybe speak to the children, and possibly speak with neighbors, teacher, or friends. If the allegation is that a child has been seen unaccompanied near a swimming pool, you can expect that the investigator will be looking to see if you have locks on door leading to the pool, a fence around the perimeter, and whether you're allowing the child to be unattended. If the allegation is that your home is filthy and unhealthy, you can expect the investigator to want to see the rooms, check the cabinets, etc.
Some people are of the opinion that if you have nothing to hide, then there's no reason not to cooperate. Others are of the opinion that the investigator shouldn't be putting their nose into your business, especially when you absolutely know for certain that the report made against you is false.
From a practical perspective, if you refuse to speak to or work with the investigator, you're likely to raise their suspicions. If the investigator believes that they need access to your home and you refuse, then the can request that their legal department obtain an order to access your home.
What happens next?
It depends on what the investigation reveals. If the investigator believes that the report is baseless, then the report is likely to be closed. If the investigator finds some evidence for the allegations, but not as bad as the initial report indicated, then the investigator may ask you to voluntarily enter into a safety plan and/or engage in services - things like counseling, anger management, etc. If the investigator feels that the situation is dire, then they may go so far as to remove the children. In most cases, there will be a follow-up court hearing within 24 hours, called a "Shelter" hearing.
What if there are criminal allegations?
You should consult with a criminal attorney as soon as possible. Oftentimes, a serious DCF case also involves allegations of crimes. You should make sure that you speak to a criminal attorney so that you are aware of your rights, possible implications to you speaking to investigators, what you may or may not say in court, etc.
Be aware that if you're speaking to an investigator and have committed a crime, it's possible that what you say could be used against you. Again, this is all the more reason why you need to speak to a criminal attorney if your case involves criminal allegations.
What happens if my children are sheltered?
Then you now part of a "dependency" case and you should seek out the services of an attorney familiar with such cases. Certain rules and statutes apply to these types of cases, and certain divisions within the court system handle such cases. If you are the parent against whom allegations have been made, you will be offered an attorney if you cannot afford one on your own. If you're at this stage of the case, take each step very seriously. Whether true or false, a Judge believes that your children may be in serious danger, and you need to work with your attorney to figure out how best to handle the situation.
This guide in no way covers every situation, scenario, or circumstance. It is intended only as a general guide. The worst-case scenario for the outcome of a DCF case is the termination of your parental rights, which has often been called the "civil death penalty." Such cases are relatively rare, but do occur. You should consider consulting with an attorney once you are aware of DCF involvement in your life.
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