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Being accused of abusing, neglecting, or abandoning a child is one of the most devastating experiences a person can have, and these allegations should never be taken lightly. If your child has been harmed or you are the subject of an abuse investigation, don’t just sit back and hope the matter works out. Before you speak to anyone regarding the accusation, seek the advice of an attorney experienced in DCF investigations. Vero Beach, Florida Attorney Susan Chesnutt, a former DCF investigator, focuses her entire law practice on child welfare.
When a call to report child abuse, neglect, or abandonment is made to the Florida Abuse Hotline (1-800-96abuse), the call will go to Tallahassee and the Investigations Section of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) will investigate the allegations. If the charge has merit, the matter will be assigned to a local child protective investigator (CPI) near where the child resides. If abuse, neglect, or abandonment is determined to have occurred, services to assist the family in keeping the child safe and preventing future harm are made available. Under Florida law, DCF investigations must be completed within 60 days except in situations involving a missing child, a child’s death, or in the case of an open criminal investigation.
Child abuse investigations should never be taken lightly. A DCF investigator will speak with everyone in the family as well as others who know them, including teachers, friends, and neighbors, and you should always be truthful with the investigator. If your child has been harmed, your willingness to discuss the problem with the investigator will be important when a determination is made regarding how to improve the situation for the family, and particularly the child.
Florida law specifies that visits and interviews with the child and family will be unannounced whenever possible, and your child might be interviewed when you are not present. The law requires If abuse, neglect, or abandonment is identified, the investigator will outline the services and resources available to the family, which commonly include:
If the child is determined to be in immediate danger and the use of in-home services will not ensure their safety, the child will likely be placed in the home of a relative, close friend, or a licensed home caregiver. A court hearing will take place within 24 hours so a judge can decide whether the child can be safely returned home or should continue in the temporary care and custody of the DCF.
If the child is placed outside your home, visitation rights will be established that will determine who is allowed to see the child and whether or not such visits need to be supervised. Even though the child is not living with you, it is important that you continue to care for them by providing information about any known allergies, special medical or dietary needs, and behavioral problems they might have.
Except in severe cases, the court considers it to be in a child’s best interest to be reunited with their family as soon as possible. However, for reunification to occur, you will need to show that the circumstances that led to the removal of the child are no longer present. You will also be required to develop a case plan – an official agreement between you and the court regarding what is expected of everyone involved.
Florida law gives parents no more than 12 months to prove that they are able to provide a stable home for their child. After the child returns home, court oversight typically continues for another six months. If the child cannot safely return home, the court will determine the best long-term care options for the child and continue to oversee the matter until a permanent plan is developed.
During a DCF investigation and after a child has been removed from the home, parents have the legal right to:
Has an abuse allegation been made regarding your child, or are you the subject of a DCF investigation? Florida Attorney and former DCF investigator Susan Chesnutt operates a child-welfare centered law practice in Vero Beach, and is ready to provide you with the legal advice you need. For legal representation in a DCF investigation, contact our firm online or call 772-492-3330 today.