Hello. This is “Attorney Sam”. You may remember me as I regularly wrote this blog.
Now that we are finally thawing out, welcome to 2018. Although it has admittedly been awhile, I am still around, handling criminal cases and, of course, representing parents and teachers against the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
Since we are starting off a new year, I thought that I would do something new. In all my blogs about DCF, I don’t think I have ever written one that is favorable to the department.
The previously stated views remain, unfortunately, but there is one aspect where DCF has surprised me in a positive way.
For those of you unacquainted, when DCF gets a report about abuse or neglect of a child, or what passes for such in some people’s minds, they do an investigation. At the end of that rather short investigation, they make a determination as to whether the allegations are “supported”.
There are various ways in which such a finding can, and will, negatively effect your life. Not just in the short term…years later as well.
There is only one way to challenge such a finding. It is an appeal procedure within DCF culminating in what is known as a “Fair Hearing”.
At a Fair Hearing, the investigator explains why the decision was made to support the allegations. The aggrieved parent (or teacher) has a chance to question the investigator and present his or her own witnesses. What passes for a judge in such hearings are men and women known as “Hearing Officers”. They have their own unit at the Boston headquarters of DCF.
“Who do the Hearing Officers work for, Sam?”
They work for DCF.
“Wait a minute. You’re telling me that it comes down to asking DCF to find that DCF had made a mistake in its finding?”
I know that, particularly if you know DCF, this seems like lunacy. Particularly if they continue to call it a “Fair” Hearing. Frankly, that is how it seemed when I started handling these matters years ago.
The good news is that, contrary to what one might expect, these Hearing Officers actually seem to take their job seriously. I have won many of these hearings and found many of the Officers quite fair.
“Is it just one Hearing Officer whom you have somehow won over or are dating?”
No. There are a number of Hearing Officers. I have no idea about their personal opinion of me and I do not really care. I care about zealously representing my client. But, the bottom line is that there is a shot at winning these Hearings.
I have to tell you, however, that although the law does not require it, and DCF (in general) is not thrilled when you do, I highly recommend being represented by counsel at these things.
“Oh. How convenient for you.”
Well, you can think that, but it is true.
Its very simple, really. You may be the most eloquent speaker in the Commonwealth. However, unless you have some expertise in handling DCF cases, knowing around their procedures and views, as well as an art for advocacy, you are quite likely going to be unsuccessful.
You might expect that the DCF Hearing Offi8cers and investigators understand that you were not schooled in DCF matters and so strongly allow for that. In my experience, while that would be great, it is not reality.
I have attended many Fair Hearings. I have also handled matters after the Fair Hearings and listened tapes as to what happened when the client had either represented themselves or had an attorney who was not well-=versed in DCF reality. It is usually quite antagonistic and not successful. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that there are only two hours allowed in general for these Hearings. Time is short and if they have to take the time out to school you open the reality you have just entered…well, I don’t even know if they could do that within the two hours.
It is the same as when dealing with DCF during the investigation. You may think that you are coming across wonderfully and make fine points with the investigator. Often, you are wrong.
DCF, in general, seems to have its own reality and they are not going to change it to accommodate you.
Like most legal cases, you want to have an experienced attorney represent you when you have to deal with DCF. Especially in a Fair Hearing.
As I mentioned, there are a variety of reasons why requesting a Fair Hearing (which you need to do in a particular way) should be done if you have received a finding of “support”. I have written about them before in earlier blogs and will probably do so again. Suffice to say, it can effect your future involvement with your child’s schooling, cancel any potential present or future employment as a teacher or foster parent and help pave the way for the nightmare that comes to most people’s minds when they think about DCF.
Losing custody of your children in the future.
As a parent, I would say that it’s pretty important.