“Child dependency action” is the official legal way of discussing the process that happens when abuse allegations are made. In the state of Florida, that means that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is conducting the investigation. Allegations are made by teachers, doctors, or other people in the child’s life. Read on to learn about the actual process of a child dependency action.
Before We Begin
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, neglect, or abandonment as a minor, report the problem to the Florida DCF. They have ways to report online, as well as telephone, TTY, and fax hotlines. Find those resources here.
If the allegation is credible and concerning, and the child is in immediate danger, DCF removes the child from the home. Within 24 hours of the child’s removal, there is a shelter hearing. This hearing determines if the child returns home or if they remain away from their guardians.
In addition to the legal counsel on both sides, the court appoints a Guardian Ad Litem for the child. A Guardian Ad Litem is a community volunteer who advocates for the child’s best interests.
If the child remains out of their guardians’ custody, then the DCF files a Petition of Dependency. The judge then sets the date for an arraignment.
The arraignment is where the court reviews the allegations (which are in the Petition of Dependency) and the parents enter their plea. Their plea admits to the allegations, denies the allegations, or consents to a plan without admitting to the allegations. The last option is the most common plea.
However, that plea requires the construction of a case plan. For a case plan, all legal representatives and parties must gather together to determine what steps are necessary to remove the risks to the child. Participants can plan in either formal or informal mediation.
Adjudication only happens if the parents deny the allegations. It is much like a criminal trial, with arguments and witnesses. However, there is no jury – a judge decides the case. DCF must prove that there is a legitimate case. If they do not, the judge dismisses the case. If they do, the judge moves them onto disposition.
During disposition, the court reviews and accepts or amends the case plan. They then determine who keeps custody of the children while the parents complete the case plan. Florida law traditionally gives the parents one year to complete the plan.
Every six months, the court conducts a judicial review. Essentially, it is a check in to make sure that everyone is on the right path and progressing in the right direction.
There are two ways to put a final end to the child dependency action process.
Reunification occurs when the parents complete the case plan and the risks to the child are gone. The court continues to follow the family for at least six months after the reunification.
Termination of Parental Rights
Termination of parental rights happens when parents do not comply with a case plan or the risks are not gone from the home.