Darien DCF Lawyer
It’s common for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (generally referred to as “DCF”) to receive anonymous reports of suspected child abuse or neglect from your families’ doctors, therapists, teachers, or the local Police Department. Experienced Darien DCF lawyers know that the Department of Children and Families is required by law to investigate any report of suspected abuse or neglect within 12 to 72 hours, often leaving families confused and caught off guard when an investigator shows up at their front door. Under Connecticut law, mandated reporters such as doctors, police officers, therapists, coaches and teachers are required to file a report with DCF if they have reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered from physical or emotional abuse or neglect. Reports tend to be made when even the slightest suspicion of abuse or neglect arises, as school employees often err on the side of caution to protect themselves from liability or criminal arrest for not reporting their suspicions to DCF. Almost every school employee qualifies as a mandated reporter, including teachers, nurses, coaches, school psychologists, and even part-time or substitute teachers. Our defense attorneys could help if you are under investigation.
How a DCF Investigation Begins
Once a report is made to DCF—even if the report is baseless—this agency must launch an invasive and protracted investigation into your family and home life. DCF will visit and inspect your home multiple times, interview your children without your supervision, and contact your children’s physicians, therapists, caregivers and even neighbors. Parents often feel defensive and distressed by accusations of child abuse and are inclined to comply with every request made by DCF. Don’t be intimidated by their threats. You have the right to push back and deny their requests. Our law firm regularly reminds families that they have constitutional rights, even during a heavy-handed DCF investigation. So if you are the target of a DCF investigation, then contact a top Darien attorney to help you get your name cleared and your case closed as quickly as possible.
How To Handle an Unexpected DCF Visit
Mandated reporters are under no legal obligation to inform parents that they have made a report to DCF. That’s why the typical DCF “playbook” usually involves an investigator arriving at your front door unannounced for a home visit following a report of suspected abuse or neglect of your children. Their goal is to get the most candid impression of your home life as possible, by giving you little opportunity to prepare for their visit. While you might feel strong-armed and intimidated by this tactic, it is completely reasonable for you to refuse to let them into your home. Tell the DCF investigator that you will schedule the visit for a later date after you’ve had a chance to speak with a top Connecticut law firm regarding the allegations and investigation. You can simply inform the DCF officer that you will call them to reschedule the visit for later in the day or week, once you’ve spoken to an attorney.
Don’t Be Intimidated by DCF
This is when the investigator may try to convince you that you don’t need an attorney, or just want to “take a peak” inside the house. They may then even go into an abyss of what-could-happen scenarios, mentioning that DCF has the power to take you to court, take your children away into foster care, or impact your custody rights. Sure, this could happen if you’re a violent child abuser, but 99 out of 100 times, it usually doesn’t happen, so don’t be intimidated by their doomsday warnings. Maintain your composure and remember that while DCF does have these powers as a law enforcement agency, the investigation can be delayed until you consult with a top attorney.
The 2 Types of Connecticut DCF Investigations
Once a DCF investigation begins, DCF must classify the investigation track based on the severity of the allegations. It is DCF’s responsibility to begin an investigation within 2 hours if they feel there is an imminent risk of physical harm to a child, or within 3 days for all other reports. The 2 types of investigation categories are the low-risk “Family Assessment Response” (or “FAR”), or the higher-risk DCF investigation known as a “Full Investigation” (or “Full”), which can lead to court intervention, such as removing your children from your home through an Order of Temporary Custody (an “OTC”) that’s issued out of Stamford Superior Court. You can work with your top Darien lawyer attorney to get the DCF case dismissed.
Family Assessment Response Investigations
As any of the best Darien DCF lawyers could tell you, a Family Assessment Response (called a “FAR”) is the least invasive investigation. A FAR is a 45-day investigation conducted by DCF that is similar in nature to a Full Investigation, but does not involve court intervention, and does not require the Department of Children and Families to render a formal finding of substantiation or unsubstantiation of abuse or neglect against you. During a FAR, your DCF worker will make referrals for services based on the investigator’s assessment of your family’s needs. These “recommendations” can quickly transform into DCF-mandated directives if not properly managed by a top attorney. What should stay on your radar, however, is that while a FAR is the less serious investigation, the social worker assigned to your case has the discretion to escalate the FAR to the much more serious “Full Investigation” at any point during your case if the DCF worker feels the case is more serious that it originally seemed to be.
What are “Full” DCF Investigations?
A “Full Investigation” is the most serious investigation in DCF’s playbook. A Full Investigation has can result in a formal DCF substantiation finding of abuse or neglect, public registry in DCF’s Central Registry book, mandatory in-home services required during and after the investigation, and in serious cases, judicial intervention and the temporary removal of your children from your home into foster care. Like a FAR, the social worker is given a deadline of 45 days to investigate the reports of abuse or neglect made against you and your family.
It’s an Unfair One-Way Flow of Information from Darien DCF
What’s most frustrating to the best Darien attorneys is the lack of information shared by DCF to target families. DCF will generate reports after conducting interviews and will gather information and documents from your children’s doctors, teachers, and even sometimes neighbors—but will not share any of these findings with you. DCF will expect you to answer dozens of questions during an investigation, and will not be obligated to answer yours. It’s a one-way flow of information, unless your lawyer escalates the issue with DCF attorneys and demands a full copy of your investigation file, which is always recommended.
Do I Need to Hire a Darien DCF Investigation Lawyer?
Yes, if you want to be fully prepared for your interview and want the best chance of getting your case resolved quickly. When a DCF worker shows up at your house, the officer or agent may try and downplay the severity of the investigation, in the hopes of catching you and your family off-guard, well before you have the chance to hire an attorney. What DCF won’t tell you is that everything you say or disclose to them is NOT necessarily confidential, as the information is permitted to be shared with the Darien Police and court prosecutors, without your permission. Keep your guard up. DCF workers are trained to put you at ease so they can get as much information out of you as possible. This is why it’s always a good idea to hire a top Darien lawyer to guide you through your DCF investigation.
What To Expect at Your Interview
During your initial interview with DCF investigators, the social worker will question you about the alleged episode of abuse or neglect. Your answers to these questions can either make or break your case with DCF. It’s important to go into this interview prepared, after consulting with an experienced attorney who can prep you on what questions you will be asked and how to answer them without raising any red flags. As your attorney will warn you, it’s important to always be truthful and honest with DCF, but you can refuse to answer questions. Most importantly, don’t try to be “helpful” by offering offer unnecessary information about prior, resolved family issues, such as substance abuse or domestic violence.
Should I Sign the Connecticut DCF Release Forms?
During your interview, DCF will also ask you to sign releases, which would give them access to your children’s doctors, therapists, school teachers, caregivers, and sometimes even neighbors. It’s not uncommon for families to feel pressured into signing these releases. It is always important to realize that you have the option to say no (or even “let me talk to an attorney and get back to you”). Then discuss your DCF case with a Darien lawyer during a consultation prior to meeting with the Department of Children and Families to be sure that you are not pressured into complying with unnecessary and overly burdensome demands.
Can DCF Interview My Children without A Parent Present?
Yes. An investigator may want to interview your children without you present, especially if you are the parent accused of abuse or neglect. Although this is often a scary thought for parents, DCF has the legal right to speak to your child privately, but you can protect your children by having a top Darien DCF lawyer sit by their side during this interview. Your attorney will make sure your child is comfortable, can digitally record the interview, or take notes during the interview, to keep you informed about the investigation and process. Most importantly, your attorney can shut down the interview at any time if they feel the DCF officer is upsetting your child or the questions are inappropriate.
Should I Sign A DCF Safety Plan?
In more than 50% of DCF investigations, the social worker will request that parents sign a “DCF Safety Plan” or “DCF Service Agreement” at the beginning of your investigation. This safety plan/service agreement is a standard pink or yellow form routinely used by DCF, but not all safety plans and service agreements are created equal. Depending on the allegations against you—as well as the discretion and whim of your investigator—DCF will handwrite conditions on the form, depending on what they believe your family’s specific needs are following your initial assessment. Know this: signing this form is entering into a legal agreement with DCF to comply with these conditions, even if your family does not need them.
Having an attorney by your side to review this form is crucial to protecting yourself from overbearing and restrictive conditions. Without first consulting an attorney, you may find yourself legally bound to complete parenting classes, alcohol treatment, anger management counseling, unnecessary supervised visitation with your own children, and/or drug testing. Sometimes the Department of Children and Families will even ask you to sign off on a restraining order that prevents you or another member of your family from remaining in your family home.
That’s when DCF may use heavy-handed rhetoric with you, indicating that if you refuse to sign the safety plan/service agreement, then there “could” be consequences, such as a prolonged investigation or court intervention ordering temporary custody of your children with DCF. Don’t be intimidated by “ifs,” “coulds,” and “maybes.” Don’t be frightened into signing a DCF safety plan / service agreement without first consulting with your attorney. DCF will always give you time to speak with an attorney so that you can ensure that your parental rights are always protected and that every step you take during your DCF investigation is in the best interest of you and your children.
How to Fight an Investigation in Darien Connecticut
The best way to protect your family from a DCF investigation is to hire a Darien attorney. They know the ins and outs of a DCF investigation and, as smart and capable as you think you are, a lawyer knows all of the options and strategies available to you in fighting your case. They know when to push back, when to say no, when to modify a safety plan, and how to get the lawyers on the phone when you and your family are just not seeing eye-to-eye with the investigator handling your case. Our law firm will advocate on your behalf to protect you and your family from a drawn-out investigation and unreasonable demands. So if this is the first time you have been contacted by DCF regarding allegations of abuse or neglect waged against you or your family, then, at the very least, you should schedule a consultation with a top Darien attorney to better understand your rights, as well as the DCF investigation process.
DCF Investigations Following Risk of Injury/Unsupervised Child Arrests
As mandated reporters, police officers are also required to file an abuse or neglect report with DCF if you are arrested in Darien for Risk of Injury to a Minor / Child Endangerment, under CGS § 53-21, or for Leaving a Child Unsupervised in a Motor Vehicle, under CGS § 53-21a. Given the nature of any Darien Connecticut Risk of Injury / Child Endangerment arrest, the Department of Children and Families will open an investigation into you and your family following any arrest for these charges, even for the most harmless or brief violation of these laws. Darien Connecticut parents, nannies and caretakers are always shocked to learn that leaving a child under the age of 12 in a car alone is against Connecticut law—even if the windows are down and it is for a quick trip into a coffee shop or dry cleaner. And under certain circumstances where a teenager is at risk of harm, leaving a child under 16 in a car can also get you arrested in Darien Connecticut for Risk of Injury. Click here to read more about Connecticut laws against leaving an unsupervised child in a vehicle.
Remember…everything you say to a social worker investigator about your Darien Risk of Injury arrest can be shared with the Darien Police Department and Stamford Superior Court prosecutors, so it’s important to have an experienced attorney next to you when making any statements that can affect your criminal case. Your top Darien DCF criminal lawyer can facilitate communication between you and the Department of Children and Families to assist you in trying to get your case closed as quickly as possible with a favorable outcome. Unsupervised child car injuries and death cases have been on the rise in the past few years, so it is critical to make a positive first impression with DCF to avoid any substantiation findings of abuse or neglect against you.
Can I Appeal a DCF Investigation Substantiation in Darien?
Yes, and it’s usually a smart move. In fact, a DCF appeal hearing is the most fair and transparent procedure that takes place, and that’s because you actually get a hearing and right to call witnesses.
Once you receive a letter confirming that your investigation has resulted in a substantiation of moral, physical, or emotional abuse or neglect against you, then you usually have 60 days to file DCF appeal papers. Any finding of abuse can have a devastating impact on your personal and professional life, especially if DCF rules (in their sole discretion, of course) that your abuse/neglect substantiation finding should be published in the DCF Central Registry, making it available to employment background checks, as well as to any member of the public.
The Advantages of Holding an Appeal Hearing
Once appeal papers are filed, DCF will initiate an internal review into your case. If the internal review affirms the Darien DCF substantiation finding, then you will have a short period of time to request a full evidentiary hearing.
This hearing is conducted before an impartial hearing officer, not a Connecticut Superior Court judge. During this DCF hearing, your Darien lawyer can present evidence on your behalf, and subpoena any of the witnesses who you think made false or misleading statements during the investigation. Many of the best lawyers take advantage of this appeal hearing in difficult cases—they question and cross-examine witnesses, subpoena medical records and police reports, and even cross-examine the DCF social worker that conducted your investigation.
So if you have received a letter in the mail informing you that DCF has substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect against you, then be sure to contact a top Darien DCF attorney to discuss the costs, risks, and benefits of filing an appeal.
Am I Entitled to a Copy of My DCF Investigation File?
Absolutely. In fact, getting the records can give you a huge advantage in a related criminal, divorce, or child custody case. You are entitled to request a copy of your DCF report once your case has been closed. Your file contains a full summary and record of phone calls to DCF, witness statements, police interviews and reports, medical records, and all other evidence gathered by DCF during your investigation. DCF is required by law to document and log every correspondence they receive during their investigation. Having these records in hand will give you insight into your investigation, and can be tremendously helpful during divorce or child custody proceedings, especially if your referral to DCF was based on lies by an ex-husband or ex-wife who is trying to unfairly portray you as an unfit parent. Remember, you are entitled to these records even if an attorney did not represent you during your investigation. So call any of the top Darien attorneys to request a copy of your DCF records today.
DCF Investigations Following a Domestic Violence Arrest
Police officers are mandated reporters under Connecticut law and must report any incident of suspected child abuse or neglect. As a result, a majority of these investigations begin with calls to the Connecticut DCF hotline from the Darien Police Department following domestic violence arrests. If a domestic violence arrest occurs in a home where children under the age of 18 are present—even if the children were asleep and did not witness the incident—then Darien police are required to make a referral to DCF.
That’s why so many of the top lawyers in Darien frequently see DCF investigations go hand-in-hand with domestic violence arrests. While dealing with DCF, you must remember that anything you disclose to your social worker can be used against you in criminal court. So consider consulting with a lawyer who is well-versed in both criminal procedures and DCF investigations. These attorneys are skilled in balancing moving your DCF forward to closure while simultaneously protecting you in your criminal case, especially when it comes to making incriminating statements that jeopardize both cases.
Contact a Darien Connecticut DCF Attorney Today
If you believe you are under investigation, contact an experienced Darien DCF lawyer at Mark Sherman Law immediately. We can guide you through the investigation process, with the goal of having your case closed without any substantiation of abuse or neglect, in an efficient and private manner. Contact us today. We are always available to take your call.