These are cases where the Department of Children and Family Services (the "Department") is involved in investigating an allegation of child abuse or neglect, or where the case has moved to the point where a "dependency petition" or "petition to terminate parental rights" has already been filed.
In Broward County, child abuse and neglect allegations are investigated by the Child Protective Investigations Section of the Broward Sherriff’s Office; and the investigators are called Child Protective Investigators. One area in which I can assist is in your responding to and working with the Protective Investigator.
If a dependency case progresses either in Court or if you enter into a voluntary case plan, another agency, ChildNet, becomes involved, and the job title for the ChildNet worker who works with you on the case is Child Advocate. The Child Advocate is responsible for assisting in linking you with services required by a case plan, for checking periodically to see how the children are doing, and for reporting back to the Department and the Court (when a court case is pending).
Different people have different experiences with the Child Advocate – some experience them as very helpful and trying to help in resolving the situation and assist with getting services in place. Others experience the Child Advocate as an adversary. It is important for you to be mindful of and protect your rights, but it is also important to seek to work well with the Child Advocate, and a Guardian ad Litem if appointed for the case, rather than yourself being unnecessarily combative towards these people – it can help to have positive relationships with the people you work with. An attorney can possibly help you at this stage successfully navigate the process.
It is essential to be aware of the legal requirements necessary to authorize actions or decisions by the Department, and to guard your rights, but if it is a situation where things have taken place which put a child at risk, it's often important to acknowledge that the Department has the job in Florida of seeking to protect children; and to move forward with the Department, through your attorney if you are represented, to put into place a case plan which protects the children and makes continued action by the Department over the long-term not necessary.
It is important to keep in mind that a focus of the Court in dependency cases will be on protecting the child(ren). Parents also have constitutionally protected rights to raise their children. The Department in Court will be responsible for showing that there is a risk to the child(ren), and if it is possible for the child(ren) to remain in your home that will be the first option, versus placing a child in foster care. In addition, ahead of foster care as an option, is having the children placed with another relative if possible.
I have experience litigating Dependency cases as an attorney in private practice representing parents, as an attorney for the Department of Children and Family services, and also as a witness in dependency cases during my work as a children and family therapist in Florida. In my current work, however, I am not taking on new litigation cases, and I’ll be a good choice for you as an attorney if you are seeking help working with the Department or Child Protective Investigations prior to a dependency case being filed, or help mediating or working out a resolution of your case with the Department. There are attorneys I work with who can represent you in Court when there are hearings for the case. In most cases, however, it will probably be more cost effective for you to simply begin with a litigation attorney if you already have a dependency case pending, but I can talk with you on the phone about your case, and refer you to another lawyer if that seems best for your situation.