An Overview in Brevard County
Dependency Court is not a place anyone wants to be, so how do families and people end up there?
Dependency cases are brought to the Brevard County Circuit Court because there are allegations of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment of a child. These cases fall under Florida Statute Chapter 39. Cases requiring a Dependency Attorney from Legal-Eagles.com happen all over Brevard County including in Palm Bay, Melbourne, Indialantic, PAFB, Cocoa, Rockledge, Suntree, Titusville and all the other cities and towns.
Specifically, under Section 39.001, the purpose of the dependency system is to protect children, not to punish parents of families but some of the people who have been through the dependency process might offer you a different perspective based on their experiences.
“Being involved with DCF and having my child taken so quickly was crushing. I needed guidance to see how my case was set up and to consider the options available to me. I denied the allegations by DCF and my case ended with satisfaction. I am thankful for the help during my case.”
Name Withheld for Privacy
If you are contacted by law enforcement or the Department of Children and Families (DCF), from Melbourne, Rockledge, Palm Bay or other Brevard County offices, about your child or children you need a strong advocate right away. Timeframes in the dependency court legal process come fast and furious with the first one a mere 24-hours after the child is sheltered (sheltering means the child is sheltered from a person or persons and result in your child being removed from your home.) You need an advocate from the beginning to help you understand the many steps and what choices are available to you. A Dependency or DCF case private attorney in Brevard can help you. How you approach your case, who you talk to, what you say, and what you do matters and will effect the process and the outcome of your case.
What causes Law Enforcement and/or DCF to intervene in your life and that of your child in Brevard County?
Abuse – Neglect – Abandonment
Abuse is defined in Florida Statute 39.01 and is any willful or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm that causes or is likely to cause a child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. This is true throughout all the areas of Brevard and a dependency lawyer can assist you.
Sexual contact with a child.
Threating to cause harm to a child – physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Neglect is defined in Florida Statute 39.01 as when a child is not being provided sufficient food, shelter, clothing or medical care or the child is permitted to live in an environment causing the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired or to be in danger of being significantly impaired.
Bizarre punishments to child.
Ignoring the child’s basic needs.
Abandonment is the third basis for a child to be sheltered and is defined by Florida Statute 39.01 as there being a parent or person responsible for caring for the child, although able to do so, who does not provide for the child’s care and support, and who makes little to no effort to communicate with the child.
There is also a basis for intervention by DCF under a subset of abuse and neglect “Prospective Risk of Abuse or Neglect”. Newborn children are high risk due to their combination of special needs and the mom’s behaviors. The high risk factors present for a newborn may include: a serious medical condition, a positive drug test (of the child), or a positive test for HIV. The parent/mom’s indicators of high risk for abuse or neglect of a child can include: major psychiatric diagnoses, intellectual development issues, substance abuse, or a young age (can cause inability for mom to care for child and self). These situations can create a reasonable basis for sheltering a newborn child.
“When my client came to me she was already 7 weeks into her case. Her son was sheltered from her when they were both still in the hospital. Imagine the mom’s horror at having her newborn removed from her and not being granted visits until 3 weeks later.
The DCF report originated with a nurse caring for the mom. My client was accused of being unable to properly care for her son in the hospital. She was young but I feel mom and the child’s grandmother could and would have cared for the child without incident.
Mom had already accepted the Shelter Petition and Case Plan. With our hard work together mom was able to progress in her case plan and we began the process of reunifying mom and child immediately. Mom and son were fully reunified at approximately 9 months. Now they are living happily as a family.”
Bonnie Klein Rhoden, Attorney
What happens when Law Enforcement and/or DCF gets involved with your child or children in Dependency cases, Brevard?
The investigation involving your children may have started prior to your first contact with the authorities. Investigators from local law enforcement or the Florida Department of Children and Families (known as DCF) from the Melbourne, Palm Bay, Rockledge, Titusville, or other Brevard legal offices or investigative offices may visit your child at school, visit your child’s daycare or aftercare, speak to your child’s teacher or to siblings and it may happen before you know there is an investigation.
You may encounter the following persons, departments or entities:
- FAH – Florida Abuse Hotline (800-96ABUSE)
- DCF – Department of Children and Families
- BFP – Brevard Family Partnership
- CPI – Child Protective Investigator
- LEO – Law Enforcement Officer
- CLS – Children’s Legal Services (DCF’s attorney)
- GAL – Guardian Ad Litem and AAL – Attorney Ad Litem
- ORC – Office of Regional Conflict Counsel
- Court Liaison – from Brevard Family Partnership
- Empower – (as of 2016) Contractor Managing Cases for DCF
- DCM – Dependency Case Manager
- FSW – Family Services Worker (usually with Empower)
- ICPC – Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children
Remember, the person/persons talking with you, your spouse, your child, siblings, other relatives, school and other sources of information are not acting in your best interest. No matter where in Brevard you are – you need a dependency attorney right away. The people on the list above are acting only in what he/she perceives is in the best interest of the child/children. These people are not your friend and their purpose is to investigate and build their case – not to look out for you.
The Dependency Case Flowchart is produced by DCF and this version is dated July 1, 2010. Click on the photos for a full size image in PDF format.
The process of dependency cases is not only confusing but it also moves lightning fast at first then it slows to a snail’s pace. It is imperative for you to understand the process whether you are a parent, a guardian, a grandparent, aunt/uncle or other interested person. Please review the above linked Dependency Case Flowchart.
Your Dependency Lawyer will attend all of your court hearings in Brevard or Orange County and will help you process through your case plan. Here are some of the types of hearings and meetings you can expect to attend with your dependency attorney in your DCF case:
- Shelter Hearing (within 24 hours of removal including weekends)
- Shelter Review
- Case Management Conference in Palm Bay, Melbourne, Titusville or other legal office.
- Trial (if you deny the Petition Allegations)
- Case Plan Conference (CPC)
- Mediation (To review the case plan and other issues in the case)
- Judicial Review Hearings at the Viera Courthouse
- Status Review Hearings
- Permanency Reviews
- Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) Hearings
Other times you will likely need your counsel include when questions or disputes arise with your DCF case worker, when the foster home’s services are questionable, when any school issues arise, and when opposing parties or interested persons make requests to move your child’s residential placement. While this list is not exhaustive it is a good glimpse into the various hearings and court events in a dependency case. Hearings and meetings take place at the Viera Courthouse, the Melbourne Courthouse, and the Titusville Courthouse. You and your Dependency Attorney may also meet with DCF at their Palm Bay legal services office, their Rockledge legal office, or any of the Brevard County DCF and CLS legal office locations.
Dependency cases proceed through the court system under Florida Statute 39, the Rules of Juvenile Procedure, and the Rules of Evidence. DCF is required to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal of a child from the home however their goal is the best interest of the child/children. If a child is removed (known as sheltered) a “Shelter Hearing” takes place within 24 hours of removal and the order of placement for a child is most usually first with the child’s parents, then relatives of the child, then non-relatives (friends, other known persons), and finally foster care. The court / the Judge decides where to place the child. If your child is removed get your Legal Eagles dependency attorney in place the same day so he or she can attend your shelter hearing with you. Be prepared to bring names and contact information to court for all persons you think may be willing to care for your child during the case. Foster care should be the last choice.
Once the case is initiated the team of DCM, AAL, GAL, CLS, and others will develop a case plan, arrange for medical care/exam, and other services and evaluations needed at the team’s discretion. A child in foster care or other out of home placement is in the “care, custody and control” of the State of Florida. This means decisions of care, education, and oversight of the child is made by DCF, Empower or other authorized persons, not by the Parent. Your child may be vaccinated within one to three days of being placed in foster care.
If your child remains placed in your home during your dependency case and when a case plan is in place there is significant oversight by DCF no matter where you live in Brevard County and you will need to stay in constant contact with your DCF/Dependency Attorney. You can expect frequent visits to your home and often there are unannounced visits to the child at school and daycare visits for younger children and their siblings.
In closing, it is very important to have a strong advocate working for your best interest. As you’ve read here, the child is well represented by numerous professionals and volunteers. You need your own advocate in your dependency case; Don’t go it alone.
Initial consultations are always a courtesy. Call the office to make an appointment with one of our attorney’s handling dependency matters: