Westport DCF Lawyer
All too often, top Westport DCF lawyers get calls from panicked parents who have been contacted by Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, more commonly known as “DCF.” In most cases, parents find out that they are being investigated for abuse or neglect when a DCF social worker shows up at their door, sends them a letter, or calls them unexpectedly. Once an allegation is made against you or a member of your family, DCF must respond within either 12 or 72 hours, depending on how serious the allegations are against you and your family. A skilled domestic violence attorney can help you understand the process and what to expect while protecting your rights.
How Does a Connecticut DCF Investigation Start?
The first question most families facing a DCF investigation ask is why and how. How and why did this investigation start? The best Westport DCF defense attorneys can explain that investigations begin with a referral, which is a report to DCF’s hotline. Connecticut laws classify certain people as “mandated reporters,” meaning that they are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect to DCF. Mandated reporters in Connecticut include doctors, teachers and school staff, coaches, pediatricians, therapists, and police officers. The mandated reporter rule applies regardless of whether the child is in public or private school, and trumps any kind of doctor / therapist confidentiality privilege.
DCF Agents Sweep Into Your Home Quickly
Experienced Westport Connecticut DCF defense attorneys know that once a referral is made, a DCF worker will be assigned to your case. This person is an investigation social worker, who usually works out of DCF’s Norwalk Connecticut headquarters. In many cases, the investigation can feel intrusive and uncomfortable for families. The investigation launches with a home inspection, an extensive interview with the parents, and an interview with your children without you being permitted to be in the room. From there, DCF will want to speak to your children’s doctors, dentists, and teachers, family therapists, and sometimes even your neighbors. So, if you or your family is the subject of a DCF investigation, you should immediately seek assistance from a top attorney or law firm who can help you through the DCF investigation process and help get your case closed as soon as possible.
What Do I Do When DCF Shows Up at my Door?
As any of the top Westport Connecticut DCF attorneys would tell you, families rarely receive a heads up when a referral is made to DCF’s hotline. Instead, a social worker will just show up at your door.
Why? Because DCF thinks that it will be able to get the most genuine and authentic picture of your private home life by taking you by surprise, rather than giving you time to prepare. What many Westport families do not realize is that they can ask the DCF worker to come back at another time. While it can be intimidating with a stranger standing on your doorstep, don’t be afraid to reschedule or to ask the DCF worker to come back later that day to give yourself a chance to consult with an attorney.
You Have the Right to an Attorney
Many families get nervous and think that they must let DCF into their home immediately. Especially when the DCF worker will seem friendly and won’t be wearing a badge or uniform. But, don’t forget that DCF social workers and investigators are law enforcement officers who are there to enforce the law. While investigators are not able to put you in handcuffs and arrest you, they are able to communicate with the Westport Police Department about your family and take you and your family to court to seek orders that could impact your parental rights. So, if DCF shows up at your door, be courteous and ask them for their contact information. Tell them that you will be in touch later that same day to reschedule, but you first need a chance to talk to an experienced Westport DCF attorney. Some DCF workers will threaten that they can go to court and file a petition if you don’t speak with them immediately. Don’t let them bully you. Ninety-nine percent of the time the initial interview and DCF assessment can usually wait until the next day.
What is a Westport DCF Investigation?
Any of the best Westport Connecticut DCF law firms can explain to you that there are actually two types of Connecticut DCF investigations. The lower-risk and less intrusive is called a Family Assessment Response, or a “FAR.” On the other end of the DCF investigation spectrum is the higher risk DCF “Full Investigation.” If the allegations are serious, a Full Investigation usually comes hand-in-hand with the threat of a DCF Neglect Petition or an Order of Temporary Custody or Removal (“OTC”), which is handled in Connecticut Superior Court. DCF agents unilaterally determine in their sole (and sometimes unreasonable) discretion which type of investigation is necessary, depending on the severity of the case.
What Happens during a Westport DCF Family Assessment Response (“FAR”) Investigation?
A DCF Family Assessment Response / FAR in Westport Connecticut is a comprehensive risk assessment investigation of your family. A FAR lasts for 45 days and while not as intense as a Full Investigation, a FAR can escalate into a high-level “Full DCF Investigation” if it’s not properly handled from the outset. Your top Westport Connecticut DCF attorney lawyer should explain that a FAR inquiry is similar to a Full Investigation in that both gather similar information, but a FAR does not result with any findings or conclusions regarding abuse or neglect against your or your family.
The most stressful part of a FAR DCF inquiry or investigation in Westport Connecticut is that – if your DCF social worker thinks it’s necessary – he or she can escalate your DCF case to a Full Investigation and can also go pull your kids out of their classrooms to speak with them without you even knowing it. This can be triggered by anything that DCF thinks is a “red flag” – reports of physical discipline and spanking, a failed drug test, your refusal to cooperate, or information from you or your kids that indicates a potential problem are just a few examples.
What Happens in a Full Westport Connecticut DCF Investigation?
The most serious type of DCF investigation is the Full Investigation. While this is still on DCF’s investigative track, it comes with conclusions and possible substantiations. At the end of the 45-day investigation period, the DCF social worker will need to either “substantiate” or “unsubstantiate” the accusations or abuse or neglect made against you or your family.
Think of this as a “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict at the end of a trial…except that with Connecticut DCF Investigations, you don’t get to call witnesses or question the person who has made allegations against you and your family. In fact, DCF can keep the name of your accuser anonymous. If this sounds unfair to you, it’s because it is! And, while DCF didn’t write the Connecticut laws governing and regulating them, they are required by law to abide by them.
Will You Be Reported in DCF’s Public Central Registry of Abusers?
At the end of any Westport Connecticut Full DCF Investigation, you will get a letter in the mail, informing you of DCF’s findings and indicating whether allegations against you were substantiated. It will contain two boxes, which may be “checked” by the DCF social worker on your case. The first indicates whether DCF feels that you pose a continued threat to the welfare, safety, and health of your children. The second indicates whether DCF will publish its finding of abuse or neglect on its publicly available Central Registry. Finally, DCF will indicate in that letter whether they will require your family to receive additional services which, if refused or declined, could trigger a Superior Court DCF case against your family.
Can I Efficiently and Cost-Effectively Fight my Westport Connecticut DCF Investigation?
One of the most effective ways to fight a DCF investigation is to retain a top Westport Connecticut DCF attorney to protect you throughout the entire DCF process, help work out a resolution when DCF makes unreasonable demands, and communicate with DCF social workers and investigation supervisors to try to close your case as soon as possible without any findings of abuse or neglect against you. The best Westport Connecticut DCF attorneys and lawyers understand and appreciate the balance between advocacy on your family’s behalf, cooperation with DCF’s mandates, and protection for your family.
So if you and your family are the target of a DCF investigation in Westport Connecticut, it’s well worth your money and time to retain a Connecticut DCF Investigation lawyer and learn about your rights, especially if you’ve never dealt with Connecticut DCF before. Read our blog for more information on fighting Westport DCF Investigations.
Do I Need an Attorney for my Westport Connecticut DCF Investigation?
Absolutely. If you and your family are the target of a DCF Investigation in Westport Connecticut, you are probably wondering whether it’s necessary to hire an attorney to represent you, and the answer is yes. Having any of the best Westport Connecticut DCF attorneys and lawyers by your side throughout the process can help you get the case closed as quickly as possible and can help you contain the case so it doesn’t unnecessarily escalate and become even more serious and intrusive than it already is.
Insist Your Westport DCF Lawyer Be Present for all DCF Interviews
Interviews with DCF investigators – especially without an experienced attorney to guide you – can be overwhelming. Right from the start, the DCF social worker will ask you questions about your entire life, mental health history, marriage history and your kids’ health and medical histories. Many families just want to cooperate and give the DCF worker all relevant information with the hope that they go away. But, while no top Westport Connecticut DCF attorney would advise you to lie to DCF, keep in mind that everything you or your family says to DCF can be used against you. DCF agents are specifically trained to fish for red flag issues like addiction history and domestic violence issues, all with the goal of determining whether DCF needs to get more involved in your family.
Don’t Let Westport Connecticut DCF Agents Go On a Fishing Expedition
DCF agents will search for information about you or your family members’ substance abuse problems, criminal or domestic violence history, mental health diagnoses, past therapy and counseling for anxiety, depression, or any other issues that may cause them to keep their case open longer than necessary. But, more often than not, these issues are so dated, and have been resolved so many years ago, that they don’t even affect your family anymore. A top Westport DCF attorney can help guide you through the interview without being dishonest.
Don’t Sign Connecticut DCF Release Paperwork So Quickly
On top of the interview that delves deep into your past, DCF will want to contact your kids’ teachers, doctors, dentists, therapists, and even neighbors if they feel it would help their investigation. The DCF social worker will ask you to sign release forms so they can freely talk to each provider. Without a top Westport DCF worker present, you might feel as though you must sign the releases. Know, however, that you have a choice and can say no to DCF to keep third parties out of their investigation. If you are being investigated by DCF in Westport, get in touch with a top Connecticut DCF Investigation law firm as soon as possible.
Can DCF Speak to My Kids Without a Parent Present?
Yes. DCF will want to speak to your kids without you there. But, a top Westport DCF Investigation lawyer can sit next to your child during this interview, take notes during the interview, record the interview if you’d like, and end it at anytime if your child becomes upset.
Should I Sign a DCF Safety Plan or DCF Service Agreement?
Not until you contact a top Westport DCF attorney or law firm to review it. During a Westport Connecticut DCF FAR or FULL investigation, DCF officers may pressure you to sign a DCF Service Agreement or a DCF Safety plan immediately after the initial interview. The DCF worker will typically handwrite conditions on a yellow or pink sheet of paper and then hand it to you for your signature. Stop right there.
You should not sign anything without first getting legal advice from a top, experienced Connecticut DCF investigation lawyer. The conditions in the Safety Plan often put a huge burden on Westport families, as they can be overly broad, subject to different interpretations, and usually do not include an end date. They can include mandates for supervised visitation with your children, the removal of one parent from the family home, substance abuse evaluations, drug testing, anger management counseling, or participate in parenting skills courses.
Don’t Be Pressured into Signing a Westport Connecticut DCF Safety Plan
Most often, the Safety Plan is drafted quickly and parents feel that they have to sign it. Yet DCF may not go over the legal consequences of agreeing to a DCF Service Agreement of Safety Plan. If parents hesitate to sign, DCF workers will often bring up “possibilities” of foster care, temporary transfers of custody, or Connecticut Superior Court intervention. Know, however, that these extreme consequences are typically reserved for the most severe cases; however, the mere mention of them will scare most families into signing anything that the DCF worker puts in front of a target family. Your top Westport Connecticut DCF attorney lawyer will take the time to explain that a Connecticut DCF Safety Plan or Service Agreement is essentially a legally binding contract, and by signing it you waive your constitutional rights to due process against DCF.
So if you are handed a Safety Plan or Service Agreement by a DCF worker in Westport Connecticut, then let the DCF investigator know that you need a few hours to get in touch with a Westport Connecticut DCF Investigation attorney before signing.
If DCF Substantiates Allegations Against Me, Can I Appeal?
Yes, you can – but as the best Westport Connecticut DCF attorneys and lawyers know, you have a short window of time to file that appeal. When your Full DCF Investigation closes, you will get a letter in the mail. In that letter, DCF can substantiate allegations against you, such as physical abuse or neglect, moral neglect, or emotional neglect. That letter will also let you know whether DCF intends on publishing the substantiation against you in its publicly available Central Registry.
How to File Your Westport Connecticut DCF Appeal
You need to file an appeal shortly after getting that letter. The good news is that unlike the underlying Westport Connecticut DCF investigation, DCF’s appeal procedures offer constitutional due process, established protocols, and clear regulations and hearing procedures. Any of the best Westport Connecticut DCF appeal lawyers and attorneys know that DCF will first conduct an internal review of your case. Once their review is complete, you have a right to a full evidentiary hearing, which is similar to a trial. You and your top Westport Connecticut DCF lawyer can call witnesses, question the DCF investigator and social workers, obtain DCF reports, and have a neutral decision-maker decide whether your DCF substantiation can be upheld. For more detailed information on appealing a Westport Connecticut DCF substantiation finding, click here.
Fighting DCF Investigations that Follow Westport Connecticut Domestic Violence Arrests
Some of the best criminal lawyers and attorneys in Westport Connecticut are well aware that many of DCF cases begin with a report from the Westport Police Department, which is a “mandated reporter” and required by Connecticut law to report the arrest to DCF if children under the age of 18 were present during a domestic violence dispute or arrest. Westport Police must file a report even if your kids were not involved in the incident. Common domestic violence arrests in Westport that may trigger a DCF referral include Disorderly Conduct, Assault, Risk of Injury to a Minor, Breach of Peace, and Strangulation. DCF plays an active role in your criminal case, and has regular contact with the prosecutor and family relations officers about any issues in your DCF case. So if you are the target of a Westport Connecticut DCF investigation and also have a criminal case pending in Norwalk Superior Court (where all Westport arrests are handled), then contact a top DCF Connecticut lawyer before speaking to the DCF investigator, because everything you say to DCF can be used against you in your Norwalk court criminal case. For more about fighting DCF investigations in Connecticut while a criminal case is pending, click here.
Can I Get a Copy of Westport Connecticut DCF Case File?
Absolutely, but you will need to wait until your Westport Connecticut DCF investigation is closed. Your top Connecticut DCF lawyer will be able to file requests with DCF lawyers to get a copy of all documents related to your case, including interviews, summaries of visits and conversations, and any other evidence collected during DCF’s investigation. As experienced Westport DCF lawyers can explain, these records might be helpful in any pending custody or divorce court cases, as well as in any Connecticut criminal cases, especially if you think some of the accusations may have been fabricated. Be sure to contact a top Connecticut DCF attorney to help you get the records you need.
Contact an Experienced Westport DCF Attorney
If DCF has shown up at your door or contacted you by phone, get in touch with any of the experienced Westport DCF lawyers at Mark Sherman Law. We are here to help protect your family’s reputation, and to work to close your DCF investigation as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.