A dependency action (aka dependency process) in Florida is a civil case against one or both parents. Basically, an allegation has been made of abuse, abandonment and/or neglect of a child or children.
When Child Protective Services receives a call on their abuse hotline regarding the safety and well-being of a minor child, they must investigate the allegations raised. This generally is done by speaking to the child in question, talking to childcare providers or school faculty, speaking with the parents, family members and neighbors.
In addition, the investigators often as the parents to perform certain actions voluntarily (i.e. to take a drug test).
If the investigator finds verified findings of abuse based on their investigation they will often attempt to offer services to the parents. These services are at no cost to the parents and should be limited to the services needed to alleviate any concerns regarding the abuse/neglect of the children.
If a parent successfully complies with the plan offered, the investigator will close the file with no further action being taken.
However, if a parent refuses services and/or the investigator believes the child is in immediate danger, that investigator has the right to remove the child from the parent’s home immediately. If this occurs, there is a shelter hearing with the courts within 24 hours of the child being removed where the attorney for the state has to prove to the court that removal is necessary.
If a parent qualifies, they are provided counsel at no charge for this hearing and for the duration of the case.
However, parents are also entitled to hire attorneys and may wish to do so as privately hired attorneys are often able to dedicate more time in energy into the case and better prepare and advise the parents.
If the court finds removal was necessary, the child will not be reunified with the parents and will remain with family members or in foster care. Even if the Court does not require removal, the court can still find that certain services are necessary and proceed with further hearings.
When a child is removed from the parents, the Court should consider visitation between parent and child (whether supervised or unsupervised) absent a showing of detriment to the child.
The court should also consider if there are any family members who can care for the child rather than having the child placed or continue to be placed in foster care. If this is an option, a home study will be done to ensure the home where the child is placed is appropriate.
The next hearing that occurs if the case proceeds is an arraignment. This is where the parent pleads to the allegations against that parent.
A parent can consent to the allegation, deny the allegations or admit the allegations. Generally, the parents either consents or denies the allegations.
If a parent denies the allegations, the parent receives a trial date and the state is required to prove the allegations alleged against that parent. If the parent consents to the allegations, the parent neither admits or denies the allegations, but waives the right to trial and proceeds forward with case plan tasks to be reunified with their child/ren.
Dependency cases are generally lengthy cases.
While the statutes require cases to be resolved within 12 months, the cases often take longer, especially when the parents deny the allegations and the court later determines the allegations are valid. This is due to the case plans that are put into place.
A case plan is a plan that lists various actions a parent must take for the case to be closed and the child to be reunified with that parent.
The parents case plans, depending on the allegations against the parent, often include various types of counseling, drug/alcohol random testing (both urine and hair follicle), substance abuse evaluations, inpatient/outpatient treatment, psychological testing, anger management classes, batters’ intervention classes, parenting classes, stable housing, payment of child support, and stable income, etc.
If a parent complies with the case plan the parent is reunified with the child/ren. If the parent fails to do so, the court will not reunify the parent and their rights can be limited or even terminated based on the allegations.
Dependency actions are governed by Fla.Stat. §39.