First off, calm down. Remember that DCF (the Florida Department of Children and Families) is a governmental agency, but it still must go to Court to be able to take children away from parents. While they have near unbridled authority to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect of children, nothing can happen to your parental rights without notice and an opportunity to be heard before a judge. Many, many calls to DCF result in no action at all. Many others result in advisories and recommendations of classes and programs to the offending parents. DCF is very cognizant of the goings on in family court proceedings and their investigators give due regard to the fact that many people call in false abuse or neglect reports to gain an advantage in family court. The problem is, you might never know who has called in the report as almost all calls are anonymous (exceptions are calls made by law enforcement or judges). As such, it may also very well be that the report has been called in by a teacher or daycare worker, who is just watching out for your child. With all that being said, here are tips for dealing with DCF.
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How to Handle the DCF in Florida
- Treat the investigator with courtesy and respect, even if they are very combative in their attitude towards you. If you fly off the handle at them, they might get the impression that you can easily fly off the handle at your child.
- Be sure to ask for the investigator’s name and contact information. Let them know that you will contact them for a follow up, and ask them when is a good time for you to make that call.
- If you have pending a family court or domestic violence case, and there have been favorable or neutral orders rendered by a judge, hearing officer or magistrate, have copies made for the investigator to keep.
- Gather the names, contact numbers and email addresses for those witnesses that would offer favorable observations as to your parenting for the investigator. While your family might seem like the easiest go-to, teachers, daycare workers, doctors are the neutral professionals that DCF likes to hear from.
- Mark your calendar for 60 days after the call was placed (you may need to ask the investigator when the call was placed). In 60 days, you have the right to request a copy of the written report rendered by the DCF investigator.
- If classes are offered to help you improve your parenting, take them. DCF is concerned with parents who think that they need no help. Every parent needs help. To admit that parenting is hard sometimes, and you are interested in doing a better job of parenting only helps your position with DCF.
- If a case is opened in dependency court, you are best advised to hire a lawyer skilled in dependency issues. When choosing an attorney, a great one might be a former DCF attorney, you gain the advantage of their knowledge of the system from the inside.
- When 60 days have passed, go to the DCF office in person and request a copy of the report. Keep it in a safe place. If you are represented by a family law lawyer in a pending family case, be sure to give him or her a copy of it. If you are not represented, and there is no action recommended by DCF, you might want to ask your family court judge if he or she is interested in seeing the report. In some circumstances, they will already have a copy, in other types of cases, the judge might not be able to read the report unless a DCF worker testifies as to its authenticity. This means you might have to subpoena the DCF worker to testify as to the report.
- If you are in active family court or domestic violence litigation during the pendency of the DCF investigation, do not attempt to subpoena DCF until those 60 days have passed, they are unable to comment or testify with regard to an active investigation, and you will waste your time and the subpoena fee.
- Try to avoid taking it personally. Either someone is mad at you, and they are filing false claims, or someone truly cares about the safety of your child. The latter is a good thing.