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DCF Investigations

The State of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) is charged with protecting the welfare and safety of all Connecticut children. One of their primary goals is to investigate and intervene on all child neglect and abuse allegations. DCF has a reservoir of resources. It also has the power to come to your home, knock on your door, and investigate every aspect of your family’s life, including your child’s personal life, social life and educational life. While DCF’s intentions are generally well-placed, their reach is often excessive, and if you are not properly defended by a top Connecticut DCF lawyer in Stamford, Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport, Fairfield, or Wilton, you could find yourself and your family unnecessarily subjected to DCF intervention and restrictions for months, or even years.

The Stamford and Greenwich DCF attorneys and lawyers at Mark Sherman Law are experienced in working with DCF investigators to get them the information they need. We work quickly and aggressively to advocate on your family’s half with just one goal: to get DCF to close the case as quickly as possible and out of your lives. At the same time we are doing this, we work to shield families from unnecessary DCF intervention. The last thing a family wants is DCF investigators knocking on the doors of their neighbors asking questions. Nor do they want DCF investigators coming to their children’s schools and asking questions that raise eyebrows and suspicions about abuse or neglect accusations that are often fabricated or overstated. Our goal is to cut off this investigation at the outset, and to attempt to prevent DCF from invading your lives and causing irreparable damage to your reputation in the community. Thus, if DCF has contacted you about an investigation, then you should immediately call a Connecticut DCF lawyer at Mark Sherman Law to learn how one of our DCF attorneys can assist you and your family.

What Is DCF?

DCF is a statewide agency whose mission is to promote the welfare, health and safety of all of Connecticut’s children. In Fairfield County, DCF offices are located in Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, and Danbury. One of DCF’s functions is to investigate abuse or neglect, or “suspected” abuse or neglect. DCF staffers include a skilled group of attorneys, social workers, counselors and support staff. They are not police, do not carry guns, and cannot arrest you. They do, however, work closely with law enforcement and local police. So if a child appears to be a victim of a crime or assault, they will immediately get them involved and assist them in pursuing criminal charges.

What are DCF Investigations?

DCF treats and assesses each case of reported abuse or neglect with an intense degree of scrutiny and resources, regardless of where the report originated or whether it is major or minor. The problem with this approach, however, is that many of our clients who are contacted by DCF investigators looking into a minor accusation are faced with an intense degree of questioning. This can backfire on a family who thinks they can handle the questioning without an attorney, as the DCF questions can quickly become intrusive and cause embarrassment and humiliation to a family when this level of inquiry is simply not necessary. That’s why we encourage families to immediately contact a DCF lawyer at Mark Sherman Law to intervene and shut down the DCF investigation as quickly as possible.

DCF “Referrals” from Mandated Reporters

A DCF investigation usually beings with a “referral” of the case to DCF by a phone call to the agency. Most referrals come from “mandated reporters” who are a group of professionals and educations required by Connecticut law to report abuse or neglect. These reporters include teachers, coaches, therapists, doctors, dentists, nurses, nannies, babysitters, and anyone other professional who works with children. Specifically, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes, C.G.S. § 17a-101a, mandated reporters are obligated to call DCF when, in the ordinary course of the reporter’s employment or profession, they have reasonable belief to suspect or believe that a child under the age of 18 has been abused, neglected or is placed in imminent risk of serious harm. Here’s the challenge for mandated reporters: they are obligated to report abuse and suspected abuse. In fact, if they do not report it, then they could find themselves civilly (or even criminally) liable (i.e. think Penn State football scandal). Thus, reporters are trained to err on the side of caution. Examples of referrals include: a pediatrician reporting a bruise on your child, a teacher reporting scratch marks on your child, a therapist reporting improper a child’s complaint of improper sexual contact, or a coach reporting comments made by your child about alleged threats. So if your child fabricates a tale of abuse or neglect for attention or revenge, then you could find yourself mired in the DCF system for months if you are not properly represented by a DCF attorney.

What To Do When DCF Contacts You

After a referral is made to DCF, then the investigator will usually contact the parents of the child to request an interview with the child and family. The identity of the referral source is confidential so do not expect DCF to disclose that to you. What will be disclosed to you is the following: the details surrounding the abuse or neglect allegations, and the identity of the suspected abuser. If there is an imminent risk of danger and harm to the child, then DCF must commence its investigation within two hours. If there is no such risk, then they typically begin their work within three days.

It’s critical for you to know that whatever you say to a DCF investigator will be noted in the DCF investigator’s case log. They are trained to record as much relevant information as possible. Nothing is off the record. Everything can and will be shared with the DCF and, the local police, if necessary. Therefore, if you receive a letter or phone call informing you that you are being investigated by DCF in Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk, New Canaan, Westport or Darien, then you should contact a Connecticut DCF investigation lawyer at Mark Sherman Law right away.

The Stages of a Connecticut DCF Investigation

After DCF receives the case referral, it immediately assesses the risk to the child involved in the report. Most cases are immediately assigned for investigation and, after completion of the investigation, are either “substantiated” and recorded in the DCF Central Registry, or “unsubstantiated” and ultimately dismissed. The DCF worker almost always requests to visit your home to assess the risk and safety of the home for the child. (Note: to protect our clients, in some cases we insist that the interview take place in our law offices rather than home). They will try to comfort families and have them relax their guard—but make no mistake, their primary objective is not to comfort, it’s to investigate abuse and neglect allegations. They need to get as many facts, information and data points from you and your family as possible. They are seasoned investigators and interviewers. They are very observant of everything in the home. Thus, you should be as prepared as possible for this meeting by contacting a top Connecticut DCF lawyer.

A New Approach – The DCF Family Assessment Response System

In February 2013, DCF announced the implementation of the “Family Assessment Response” System (the “FAR System”) for referral of child neglect and abuse that DCF considers low-risk. These referrals are not placed on the investigative track and instead are designated for a meeting with an investigator who advises the family on appropriate services and resources available to them, depending on the facts of their case. Be very careful here, however, as FAR cases can easily escalate to a full investigation if the DCF worker hears or sees something that concerns them.

DCF Substantiation Investigations of Abuse and Neglect

If DCF is engaged in its usual investigation of abuse or neglect, they are required to either substantiate or unsubstantiate the allegations. Their protocols and procedures are often consistent and uniform—that is, they have a checklist of questions, requests and action items, such as requesting you to sign releases and waivers regarding your child’s education and medical records. They often prefer to meet in your home and ask to look around. They interview neighbors. They may want to speak to your child’s therapists and teachers. Many of these requests are optional but if you do not push back on these requests, DCF will reach deep into your life and jeopardize or harm your reputation among your peers, neighbors and school system. To a family dealing with all these requests and paperwork, it can be very overwhelming. That’s why calling one of the DCF lawyers at the Stamford offices of Mark Sherman Law is a good idea.

When Allegations of Abuse and Neglect are Substantiated Against You

DCF has 45 days from the referral to either substantiate or unsubstantiate the allegations. If they substantiate, then they have determined there is reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect has occurred and you will be placed on DCF’s Central Registry which is available to law enforcement. In substantiation cases of severe abuse and neglect, DCF can petition the Superior Court’s Juvenile Division for additional relief such as removal of the child from the home, foster care, or suspension of parental rights. In all of these cases involving the Central Registry, you have a brief time period to appeal the decision. The experienced DCF lawyers at Mark Sherman Law can assist you with appealing a DCF substantiation decision, demand a hearing, question witnesses, and demand all the documents and notes from the DCF investigator. Contact us today to learn more about appealing DCF decisions.

Contact A Connecticut DCF Attorney Today

The irony with a DCF investigation is that DCF’s goals are well-intentioned. Their heavy-handed protocols and investigation procedures, however, can wreak havoc on our clients’ reputations in their communities. In DCF’s eyes, they are just doing their job, but the Connecticut DCF lawyers here at Mark Sherman Law know and appreciate just how intimidation and damaging the investigation can be to our clients’ reputations. So if you are involved in a DCF investigation in Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Westport or Fairfield, call an experienced DCF lawyer at Mark Sherman Law today. We will come to your home, meet with prepare you and your family for your interactions with DCF, and help you get in front of the process. Our number one priority is getting your DCF case closed as quickly as possible. We are available 24/7 for consultation and home visits. Our rates are reasonable and competitive. We look forward to hearing from you.

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