Our office receives many calls from parents who are dealing with cases with the Department of Children and Families (also known as DCF). They are Florida’s child welfare system that ensures children are living in safe and supportive home environments. Many folks misunderstand the goals of DCF and biological parental rights.
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Many people view the child welfare agency as one that destroys families but the reality is far different. If an investigation leads to DCF involvement, the goal is to offer the biological family members to complete certain programs and actions to create a safer home environment. This is so that the biological parents are able to have a better relationship with their child or children. Unfortunately, there are times where children are removed from the home.
If a child is removed from the home, the state of Florida prefers to place children with other biological family members or a biological parent that lives in a separate home. If there is no suitable guardian within the family, the children can be placed into the foster care system. Many are homed with other foster children to give them socialization with other children who are like them. This is meant to be a stepping stone to reunification but can be the next step of placement with an adoptive family.
Reunification is the ultimate goal once a child is removed from the home. Through this time period, the biological parents will have a contract with DCF to complete certain classes, seminars, and actions within the home. This may also include mental health services for the biological family and children. They may or may not be allowed to visit their child, or children, in foster care. Usually, these visitations are supervised to ensure the safety of all involved.
If the biological parent(s) are unable to fulfill their obligations, and there can be many reasons for this, adoption is the final possibility.
Adoption is considered the last and final option for a child’s safety. Many foster parents turn into adoptive parents with children they have been able to successfully connect with. However, not all foster families are meant to adopt. In those cases, a suitable adoptive family will be sought.
All of this sounds scary but remember, you as a biological parent have rights when dealing with DCF. First and foremost, you have the right to an adoption lawyer at any time during the process. We recommend that you reach out to Juliana at the very first contact with DCF but she can jump in at any time.
The fear of losing your child is strong and many parents fear the termination of their rights. Remember that if a child is removed from your home, you are still their parent. It is only once there is a hearing regarding the termination of parental rights can that change. There are different ways that this can take place.
Voluntary termination is what birth parents choose for their children. They may recognize that they are unable to provide the right kind of life for their kids. This is usually after there has been some work done to try to improve the situation but sheds light on their capabilities. This is a true act of unconditional love for a child. Adoption is often thought of for newborns but adoption is an option for a child of any age. Voluntary termination does involve the family court to ensure the adoption process is fulfilled appropriately.
Involuntary termination is an unfortunate situation that is the result of biological families not fulfilling the requirements of the contract. It can also occur if the natural parents do not appear at the permanency hearing. You cannot miss any hearings that are set for you to attend! In many cases, a child is in foster care for around 30+ days when a termination hearing occurs. If you have a lawyer involved, they can advise you on how to avoid involuntary termination.
As we have mentioned before, there is an agreement with DCF for parents to meet. This is applicable to those whose children are with a relative caregiver or a foster family. It is very important to have a lawyer involved so that you can keep up with your tasks and secure your legal rights.
This applies to all court hearings, classes, therapy sessions, and anything else in the agreement. Social workers keep their own records but you keeping records is also important. You also need to record how you maintain contact with your child (phone calls, letters, in-person contact) and turn all of the records in a timely manner to the courts.
Living situations and contact numbers change. You must keep your attorney, social workers, and courts in the know about those changes. If they can’t find you, you can end up losing your parental rights.
Your adoption attorney is there to help you get your child back into your home and support you in building a nurturing environment. Ask for help whenever you need it. It doesn’t matter what it is, lawyers have access to resources that you may not know about. They can also help expedite things through human services when it seems like DCF is taking too long to complete their part.
Make sure you sign all documents properly and that social workers and court officials sign documents correctly. It is unfortunate that these small technicalities hold up when reunification or the adoption process. Any type of errors in signing and filing documents can keep you trapped in a longer cycle of hearings and reaching solutions.
Juliana has years of experience with birth parent rights and working with DCF regarding cases of all types. If you have heard from DCF, call us today so we can discuss your situation and how we can help.