So you are standing there with the letter that came to you from the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”). The letter says that they have investigated reports of your being abusive and neglectful to your young children.
When you got the first letter, the 51A letter, you agreed to meet with the DCF investigator. You figured that you did not need a lawyer. After all, to your best knowledge, you are neither neglectful nor abusive. Nothing could be further from the truth!
You met with the investigator, who struck you as having just graduated from high school, and explained the absurdity of the allegations. She nodded politely and seemed very nice.
Yes, you had an argument with your spouse. Yes, the kids where home. Yes, sometimes you are forced to raise your voice a bit with your children when they get out of control. Who doesn’t?
No hitting. No violence. Certainly nothing like what you grew up with!
How could they find against you?
- Attorney Sam’s take on 51A, 51B and what to do next.
As I mentioned in my last posting, the definitions of words like “abuse” and “neglect” have different meetings in the DCF world. Very often, for example, verbally chastising somebody is considered abuse. Yelling at someone when the children are around, witnessing it, is often found to be neglect.
“Sam… That’s ridiculous! That’s daily life!”
Yes, it is ridiculous. Yes, it is daily life. But, yes, I have seen DCF support allegations on this and lesser events.
“What does ‘supported’ mean?”
It means that DCF has decided that there is cause for concern and that what they have found is enough to meet their criteria of abuse and neglect.
Actually, the odds were against you from the start. The reason is pressure from above. Even if the investigator thought that everything was okay, there is a good chance that the supervisor reversed that opinion. DCF is paranoid at this point of getting more bad press. This means that it is “safer” for them to linger and keep an eye on the family.
.The rationale? What if they ignore the reports and one of the kids wind up dead tomorrow? What would the papers say?
You are lucky, however. They are not removing your kids. Yet. They have merely supported findings against you.
“Well, what does this mean? Does a supported finding go on my criminal record?”
No, it does not go on your Cori. It does, however, place your name on a list. That list is held by DCF and can be shared with other such agencies around the country. Should you be looking to work in the area of taking care of children, or anyone else, you will have to sign a release so that your perspective employer can access any DCF records of findings against you. Therefore, such employer will find out that they found you supported for abuse and neglect. This will make it very difficult for you to get such a job or, if you are already working in the field, continue working in the field.
Even if you are not working in the field, the supported finding can limit you in other ways. For example, before school will let you chaperone a school trip, they will have to check on you with DCF. When they find out about the finding, then you might not be able to chaperone.
“Is there any kind of appeal?”
Yes. That is a Fair Hearing. It is the only way to appeal a supported finding.
In any event, the supported finding may well also mean that there will now be an “assessment” period for your family. What this means is that DCF will be in your life for the next few months at least. They will want to do a home visit at least once a month. They will “recommend” certain things. Beware if you refuse the services they suggest.
“What does that mean?”
It means that the worst thing you can do with DCF is question its judgment. Therefore, if they make suggestions like the kids should be in therapy, and you say no, you are running the risk of their feeling that they have to take further action. They will claim you are being uncooperative. This would mean going to court and trying to remove the children. You don’t really want that, because courts tend to bend over backwards for DCF, proclaiming them as “the experts”.
“What are these things..51A and 51B?”
The 51A is the initial report that went into DCF which prompted the investigation The 51B is the actual investigation and the paperwork that the investigation generates. The log, if you will, with the reasons for the decision.
“What do I do now?”
The only way to appeal the finding is the Fair Hearing, although there is a certain process you must follow in order to do that.
My very strong advice?
Get an experienced lawyer. Fast. Let the lawyer handle the appeal and represent you at your one chance at appeal…the Fair Hearing.