Anyone who suspects that a child is being abused, neglected, or abandoned is required to notify the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). This includes relatives, teachers, healthcare workers, and daycare workers. If DCF believes, after an investigation, that the child is in immediate danger, the agency will file a dependency petition. The petition reviews whether to place the child in another relative’s care or in the foster system. A Florida judge will ultimately determine the child’s fate. The judge may place the child in a guardian’s care or even end the parental relationship.
DCF may remove a child from a parent’s custody or caretaker’s custody is if the parent/caretaker has a drug dependency or an alcohol dependency. DCF generally has a low bar for finding the child is in danger which means the parent/guardian must be able to explain why the child is not in danger.
Individuals can file dependency petitions
Individuals, such as other relatives can also file a private dependency petition. Private petitions may be more likely if DCF isn’t moving quickly enough.
If a DCF or private dependency petition is filed, the parent can use their own attorney. An experienced dependency petition lawyer will work to protect the parent/child relationship. The lawyer may help arrange a resolution. A possible resolution is a temporary placement while the parent receives substance abuse counseling. The lawyer for the parent will also work to show the abuse or neglect didn’t occur. For example, that, the child did break his arm because of a sporting injury or some logical reason.
Skilled Florida dependency petition lawyers also represent individuals who file private dependency petitions.
The dependency petition process
If DCF is the petitioner, there will be a shelter hearing. At the shelter hearing, a court decides if there should be shelter placement for the child or if the child can return o the parents’ home. Normally, a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the child.
Dependency petition cases generally require an adjudicatory hearing to determine if the child is in danger and requires shelter away from the parent (or parents). If the judge determines that the child is in danger, then DCF caseworkers case attempt to work out a case plan. Normally, in Florida, the parent has a year to comply with the case plan – though, in some cases, that time can be shorter.
Florida also provides for judicial review hearings every six months to review the progress of the case plan. If the parent (parents) complies with the case plan, then the court can“reunify” the parent(s) and child. Even when there is a reunification, the court will monitor the parent/child relationship for another six months.
In very serious cases or when there is noncompliance with the case plan, DCF may file a Termination of Parental Rights petition.
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