Dependency & Child Welfare

What is a dependency proceeding?

A dependency proceeding is the court process in which the Department of Children and Families (Department or DCF) alleges there are problems in the home which affect the child or children from harm. The purpose of this process is not to punish a parent, but to protect the child or children’s safety and well-being. Based on the allegations, DCF may have found it necessary to temporarily remove the child or children from the parents’ custody. 

What is the Department trying to accomplish by taking my child or children from me?

The Department is trying to correct the problem which caused the child or children to be taken from the home and to return custody to the parents. 

What is a temporary placement?

The law requires the Department to make reasonable efforts to avoid removing a child or children from their home. When a  child or children have been removed, they are in a temporary placement with another parent, relatives, friends, or in Emergency Shelter Care with the Department, because the Department represented to the court that this was the best and safest place for the child or children at the present time. 

What is a shelter hearing?

This is a hearing at which the court decides whether or not the child or children should remain at home, or if they should be placed somewhere else until the case is resolved. The Department will conduct a background check on  prosepctive temporary custodians and a do home study to determine if they will be appropriate caregivers for the child or children. 

Will parents be able to visit their child or children?

Parents will be able to visit with their child or children, unless the court decides otherwise. The caseworker is the contact person for scheduling visitation. 

What is a Dependency Petition?

The Dependency Petition is the document which sets forth the allegations of child abuse and neglect, what the Department believes the parents have done, or failed to do that has put the child or children at risk. The court will give the parents an opportunity to admit, consent or deny the allegations in the petition. 

What is a Case Plan?

This is a document that lists all the tasks the Department wants the parents to complete in order to correct the problems which caused the Department to file a dependency petition. The Case Plan could include: a parenting skills course, stable and adequate housing, employment or income, child support, drug or alcohol abuse evaluations, random urine screens, a psychological evaluation, cooperation with the caseworker, signing a release of information to the caseworker, visitation with the child or children, and all the residents living in the home being approved by the Department. Parents will generally be given no more than 9 months to complete the tasks. 

What does it mean to consent to dependency?

If a parent feels he or she needs some help with child or children and is willing to complete the tasks in the Case Plan, the parent can consent to the dependency without admitting any of the allegations that he or she does not agree with in the Petition for Dependency. The court will enter an order of dependency and the parent will be ordered to complete a Case Plan. There will be no trial. 

What if the parent does not agree with any of the Department’s allegations?

If the parent believes he or she has done nothing wrong, or that the child or children are not dependent and no services are needed, the parent can request a trial and make the Department prove its allegations. The parents will be able to present witnesses and to testify at the trial. The court will either dismiss the case or find the child or children to be dependent and order the parent to comply with the Case Plan

What is mediation?

Sometimes the court will require all the parents (including the Department and the parents) to meet with a 3rd party, called a mediator, to try and settle the case without going to trial.                                                                       

How will this case end?

If the court finds that the child or children are dependent, either because the parents consented or as a result of a trial, the child or children remain under the jurisdiction of the court until the problems affecting in the home have been corrected or they each reach their 18th birthday. 

What if the problem is not resolved?

If the parent is unable, unwilling, or fails to resolve the problem in the home the Department may request the child or children not be returned to your home. The Department would then file a petition to terminate parental rights, so the child or children could be adopted. 

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Jacksonville, FL 32259

Phone: 904-230-0778

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