DCF Fair Hearings
Department of Children and Families: The "Fair Hearing"
In the proverbial “old days”, we were given to believe that how we raised our children was our business. We believed that, unless there was a serious child abuse problem going on, that the government kept its nose out of what took place behind closed doors.
If this were ever really true, it certainly isn’t true anymore.
Now, it takes one simple suggestion of a problem behind those doors to receive public scrutiny in the body of the Department Of Children And Families (“DCF”).
DCF are the folks who are considered the “experts” when it comes to children and how to raise them. They are assumed to wear the altruistic robe of concern for all our children and families. Virtually beyond reproach…so long as they act.
Many of those making the decisions as to what to do about you and your children have little to no experience in child-rearing. Some have much less education or experience with kids than you have. They are also very afraid to lose their perceived wings and halo. That, however, seems to only happen when they do not jump into action.
In other words, DCF has much more pressure on it to take action against you than to simply leave the situation alone and assume that you know what you are doing.
There are three key facts to remember:
- DCF is not publicaly criticized when they take action when there has been some kind of report made…only when they haven’t and some thing has gone wrong;
- DCF involvement necessarily triggers the possibility of your losing custody of your child; and
- Courts, by law, are supposed to give great deference to DCF as DCF is inconsidered the “experts” in child welfare. And they do.
In the more extreme cases where DCF seeks to remove your child, there is a process called a “Care and Protection” which is handled in Juvenile Court.
The 51(a) "Investigation"
In the majority of cases when DCF becomes involved, the matter is simply decided at the agency level. DCF receives information that there is a problem in your home to which the children are exposed. This report is memorialized by a report called a “51A”. DCF will never let you know who made the report. They will, however, contact you and begin what they call an investigation.
This may or may not include an interview of you. It will likely not include the child’s doctor, family members or anyone from school. In short, it is most likely not what one would call a “thorough investigation”.
Nonetheless, DCF may well decide that the allegations of “neglect”, “abuse” or “sexual abuse” are “supported”. It takes extremely little for DCF to make such a finding.
The Finding of Support and Its Ramifications
The finding that the allegations have been “supported” by DCF does not go on your CORI, your criminal record. It does, however, go on a list that will be shared with other DCF agencies throughout the country.
The finding, so long as it exists, will trigger various problems for you.
There are various times in your life when the finding will be revealed to your detriment. For example, if you ever try to provide foster care or pursue a career or even a job that calls for any kind of child care you will have to sign a release allowing a request for the information. Once that happens you have a real problem in achieving your goal.
Let’s say that there are school-related trips for which you would like to chaperone with your child’s class. The school will look into your past and find the information. You will most likely not be allowed.
Perhaps your child wants to join the scouts…boy or girl. You want to play an official role and get involved? Think again.
In the meantime, because the allegations have been supported, DCF will begin to provide “services” to you…whether you like it or not.
Let’s rephrase that alittle. You can refuse to abide by DCF’s instructions. However, doing so is called “noncooperation” and can easily lead to the above-mentioned “Care and Protection” action where DCF actually removes your children from your custody.
The “services” given to you by DCF will consist primarily of things they want you and your family to do. They may include therapy, special classes or living in a certain way that they feel you should. You will need to meet with then at least once per month or whenever they feel the need. Yes, at some point they may leave your life and close the case. However, it will be they who decide when. And, even when that happens, unless you prevail in appealing the finding of support, that finding will remain.
The "Fair Hearing"
Once a finding of support is made against you, the only remedy, or way to remove that finding, is what is ironically called a “Fair Hearing”. You have a limited amount of time to request that hearing before you lose the opportunity.
A Fair Hearing is a hearing that takes place at the DCF office with a DCF hearing officer sitting in the place of a judge. DCF presents its reasoning for supporting the allegations and you can argue and present any evidence you wish to show that the finding should have been made.
While there is no legal requirement that you be represented by an attorney, as there is in a criminal case, it is strongly suggested. You should have an attorney represent and help you prepare for this hearing who is experienced in such hearings. None will be appointed to you, however. You have to hire your own.
As you might imagine, the odds are not in your favor at the Fair Hearing. However, this does not mean that it is an exercise in futility.
Should you lose your Fair Hearing, there is one more appeal remedy available to you. However, this is more expensive and you can only present evidence that was presented at the Fair Hearing. This is another reason why you have to be very careful about the Fair Hearing, taking it very seriously.
This last option takes place in regular court. Presenting it is more formal and takes more legal preparation.