Divorce and the Department of Children and Families (DCF)
By: Brusca Law
Child custody is a complicated and emotionally charged issue for parents. We see in divorces that some parents use the Florida Department of Children and Families, also known more commonly as “DCF”, to gain an advantage to ongoing proceedings. Sometimes, other mandatory reporters (examples may include teachers, therapists, and doctors) determine that they must report certain things to DCF in an effort to satisfy their various legal obligations to protect the children and their own professional licenses.
Being investigated by DCF is stressful, emotionally exhausting, and a very trying time for most families. When DCF contacts you, it is understandable if you are initially defensive, angry, and confrontational towards the social investigator assigned to the case. If you respond in this manner, however, you might find your experience more complicated and difficult than it needs to be. Use the following guidelines to help you navigate an investigation by DCF into your family.
Be Your Own Advocate
When DCF receives a complaint and initiates an investigation, it is important to remember that DCF is coming into a family dynamic that may not be clear-cut. The role of DCF is to investigate, advocate and protect children that may experience abuse, neglect and abandonment. Your job as a parent is to protect your children and advocate for their best interests. DCF may not know the full story when they come to your home and question you, the children, and other interested parties regarding the allegations of abuse or neglect. You will need to bring them up to speed, and the best way to do this is to have a narrative prepared before DCF visits you so that you can remember as many details as possible related to the alleged event. Include witness contact information, so that the DCF investigator can contact those third parties and follow up with their statements.
Also, you should be prepared for DCF to conduct interviews with your children away from you, and you should be prepared for DCF to visit your home unannounced. Be prepared for DCF to NOT follow up with you, when they say they will and to NOT return your phone calls. Remember to be patient, and cordial when you follow up with them. The best way for you to follow up with the investigator, is to email (rather than text) the investigator so that there is a clear record. Make sure you receive the investigator’s business card AND email address at your initial meeting.
Show Respect to DCF Investigators—It will go a long way.
The Department of Children of Families may employ investigators with little to no experience, and very little training as a result of their large turnover, large caseloads, and limited budgets. This can be frustrating for everyone, but regardless of what you may think about the individual investigator, it is important for you to be respectful and remain calm in your interactions with them. You must remember that DCF is tasked with protecting children and they are looking for clear indicators of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. If children are removed from the home, it is typically not a first course of action, but the last resort. If your children are removed from the home, contact an attorney immediately.
Obtain A Copy of the Investigative Report
Remember that during this very stressful time your interactions with DCF will be watched by your children, by the DCF investigator, and reduced to a narrative in a report prepared by the investigator. This report can and most likely will be used against you in various court proceedings, including ongoing family law cases. Please remember that these reports will most likely have errors in them, and although those errors will probably anger you, the courts are aware that not all DCF reports are 100% correct information within them. You are entitled to a copy of the final report, once the investigation has been completed and you should obtain a copy when the case is closed.
Always Update your Attorney
Your lawyer is your biggest advocate and has experience in dealing with all types of investigations with DCF. Make sure you document and keep a log of your interactions with the DCF investigator, and email your attorney advising them of the interactions you and the children have had with DCF. If you are worried about an upcoming visit from DCF, call your attorney beforehand and go over your questions at length. Provide the name of your attorney to the DCF investigator in the event you would like the two to speak about the ongoing investigation.
Work with an Experienced Orlando Child Custody Lawyer
When DCF comes knocking on your door while you are in the midst of a divorce, you will want to call your family law attorney right away. To learn more about your rights when DCF is involved, contact an experienced Orlando child custody attorney, Lauren Roderick Brusca, at Brusca Law. Call 407-501-6564 to set up your free consultation. We are here to help you bring back your balance.