With anything involving your children, you want to know all the possible outcomes, as well as all the individuals involved in determining their future. When entering a child custody dispute with your spouse or former partner, it is a common question and fear of what the involvement of Florida’s Department of Children and Families in your case may entail. Discuss with your Florida Child Custody Attorney the possible involvement of every party in your child custody case and understand their role before the judge and with your child.
In any child custody dispute, the necessary parties include each parent who retains parental rights to the child in question, each parties’ respective attorneys, and the judge assigned to your case. In certain cases, other parties such as a Guardian Ad litem may be appointed by the court and an individual from the Department of Children and Families may be appointed to your case.
The manner in which the Department of Children and Families gets involved in a child’s life is through the reporting of the existence of possible child neglect, abuse, domestic violence, or any form of events that signify that a child’s welfare may be in question. Under Florida statute “Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child's welfare is a mandatory reporter per s, 39.201(1)(a)” Outside of mandatory reporters, any individuals such as family members or even strangers who witness certain acts may reach out to the department through their Florida Abuse Hotline to report concerns involving a child’s welfare. If a report satisfies the threshold, then the department will conduct an investigation and become involved in you and your child’s life or ongoing litigation.
The goals of the department include protection of children from alleged abuse, neglect, or abandonment and therefore, they will conduct a thorough investigation to assure the child in question is safe and receiving proper care. The investigation may involve interviews with the parents, the children, other household members, and any other contacts that may shed light on the situation occurring within the home and the treatment of the child. The department may conduct home visits to ensure proper food, clothing, and materials necessary for the child are present in the home. The department may also require consultations with professionals such as substance abuse counselors, mental health counselors, and physicians. After the investigation is complete, the department will assess the safety concerns of the child and determine if any exists. If the claims were unfounded, the case may be closed and a report may be presented to the court, however, if the department determines that a case plan must be put in place in order to protect the child, then steps may be taken by the court and the parents to compile with the case plan. In some cases, the individuals who investigated the claims will be called as a witness in your custody case to reveal the evidence they discovered during their investigation as well as the reasoning behind the determined case plan.
Overall, you should not fear the involvement of the Department of Children and Families, as they are established to protect your child and seek out their best interest. They intend to protect your child just as you do as a parent. Therefore, if a report is made in your case and the department becomes involved, be accommodating and open to their involvement and allow them to determine a safety plan for your child if necessary. Your Florida Child Custody Attorney will be with you during this process and can explain each step of the department for you. You will not be alone and your rights will be protected.
Speaking to an attorney at our Florida office is free of charge, and we accept calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 850-307-5211 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with a member of our team today.