It’s been a hard week and, admit it, you have not really been at your best. Or, perhaps your significant other has not been at his or her best. Either way, somebody may have done something stupid.
All you know for sure now is that you have received word that the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) wants to meet with you. Someone said something about receiving a “51a” or something and now DCF is saying they need to see if you have been neglectful.
“Neglectful???!”, you say to yourself. “Are they kidding? Look at all the things my kids have. My every thought is about my kids! Believe me, my kids are anything but neglected!”
“I don’t need to get a lawyer for this, do I?”
Unfortunately, the answer tends to be “it depends”. However, I can tell you that in the vast majority of cases, my advice is generally “Yes”.
“But I did not do anything?”
Actually, you don’t know that for sure. You see, DCF, like many government agencies, has its own definitions for all kinds of things…including what is called “neglect”.
“My kids have a roof over their heads. The place is clean.”
“They have plenty of food. They want for nothing!”
“We do not believe in corporal punishment. I mean, sure we get angry sometimes, and sometimes may yell…”
Here is the problem. Someone has made a report to DCF that your kids may be being neglected or even abused. DCF has screened the report in and begun a “51a Investigation”. Now, they have a fairly short amount of time to size the entire situation up and decide whether they can ignore your home.
DCF has had some pretty bad press over the past few years. Now, they are paranoid. What if, as intelligent folks, they do not see a problem? That is not likely to be good enough. Their rules have some pretty general definitions of neglect and abuse (which are sometimes stretched beyond belief in order to make a finding). Who is making this finding? Usually and investigator who has neither children nor much experience. That person, armed with rules and procedures that would make Dr. Doolittle roll over in his grave, is going to decide on how you parent.
Remember that unfortunate little remark about yelling at the kiddies?
DCF will not like that too much. It might be considered verbally abusive. You may be keeping the kids in an environment of stress…therefore effecting them psychologically in a negative way.
“Is the investigator a therapist?”
“Well, what if my kid’s therapist thinks the environment is fine?”
That won’t matter. It’s whether DCF thinks it is fine. That is what matters.
“Ok…well, I meant my spouse and I yell at each other, not the kids.”
Oh. Good. Were the kids home?
You see, DCF often finds that exposing kids to such arguing is neglectful.
You see, this is but one reason why I strongly suggest you get an experienced lawyer involved. You would not realize the pitfalls of these few examples I have stated. Further, you will quickly learn that DCF, in its investigation may have spoken to teachers, doctors, family, friends and even your children without you even knowing.
“They can’t do that! My kids are young!”
Oh yes they can. During its investigations, DCF has surprisingly broad powers under the law.
“Well then, what can a lawyer do to help?”
In my next posting, why don’t we look more specifically at the DCF investigations and what they entail. Then we can ask that question again.