Dependency & Parental Rights

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Child Removal, Child Protective Services and Shelter Hearings

Dependency law, codified under Florida Statutes Chapter 39, is the governing law that is triggered when Child Protective Services make allegations that a child or children are in danger of being abused, abandoned or neglected.

Under Florida law, any report of potential child abuse or neglect that is made to a law enforcement agency, or to the Florida Child Abuse Hotline is required to be investigated within 24 hours of the triggering report. If the investigator finds there is substance to the report, several possibilities exist:
  • There may be a request for the parent to engage in voluntary services, in lieu of removing the children from the home, or initiating a formal dependency court proceeding under Chapter 39. In such cases, parents often have questions about whether agreeing to engage in services is the best course. If such questions exist, it is important to consult an experienced dependency attorney to understand who can carefully advise the parent to the pros and cons of agreeing to voluntary services.
  • If the investigator finds a circumstance that indicate the child or children involved may need services, but is not in immediate danger of abuse or neglect. In these cases, the investigator might leave the children in the home but refer the matter to for potential future judicial action.
  • If the investigator determines that leaving the child with the caregiver or parent would present an imminent danger to the child’s safety, the child may be removed. At this point the investigator may find an alternative, temporary placement for the child. If the investigator cannot find a suitable placement with a spouse, relative or friend, the child may be placed in temporary shelter care. If this happens the Investigator will swear out a Petition for Shelter which will be filed in the appropriate Circuit Court.
In all circumstances, if a child is removed from a parent or caregiver there MUST be a shelter hearing held within 24 hours of the removal. The shelter hearing is where the judge will hear evidence from the Child Protection Investigator and other witnesses, including any witnesses for the parents, and determine if there is probable cause to grant the petition and possibly remove the child. This is an evidentiary hearing, but the court is allowed to consider hearsay evidence, which often poses a considerable advantage to the parties seeking to shelter the child.

At this hearing the court will inform the parent of his or her right to an attorney. If the parent does not qualify financially for a court-appointed counsel, or would prefer to work with a private dependency lawyer, it is important to consult a lawyer who is experienced in dependency and child protection law, and has worked in the dependency system in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough county.
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Reunification Case Plans

If a dependency case reaches a stage where a parent consents to work on a case plan, or a judge orders a case plan, it is likely the dependency case will be in place for several months.   
Common case plan tasks include the following:
  • Random urine analysis if drugs and alcohol are an issue within the family
  • Maintaining stable housing
  • Maintaining stable employment
  • No contact with certain people in their lives, i.e abusive. ex-spouses or paramours, friends, etc.
  • Obtaining evaluations
  • Attending recommended classes, such as parenting, nutrition, or budgeting classes, etc.
  • Attending counseling
Performing a case plan can be a frustrating experience. It can often seem like a mindless exercise in jumping through hoops – and guess what? It can be! There are times when case plan tasks seem ill-designed to address whatever problems existed that caused the dependency case in the first place. 
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Ensure That Your Case Plan is Fair

Case managers and child protection investigators often treat case plan recommendations as a laundry list and propose tasks that are not necessary, or expensive, or simply miss the point. For this reason, it is important to have input into the proposed tasks before having them court-ordered. 

 If you have any questions about reunification case plans, do not hesitate to call an experienced dependency lawyer who has handled such cases in Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough County.
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