Do Not Agree to DCF Dependency Petition Safety Plan, But Comply With It
By Orlando Family Law Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2011
DCF Is Motivated by Aversion to Losing a Dependency Trial
Parents can become angry and bitter when declared “unfit” by the Florida's Department of Children and Families, since this can lead to making their children dependent on the state. (See Dealing With the Department of Children and Families.) Fortunately, a happy ending can still be enjoyed by parents accused of being unfit to raise their children. You will better understand how this happy ending can be achieved by first understanding the underlying motivations that drives DCF.
As a private practice Orlando family lawyer that has been involved in numerous child dependency cases, I can confidently state that this state agency is motivated by extreme aversion to the prospect of losing at a dependency trial. This leads the Florida Department of Children and Families to putting extreme pressure on the accused parent to agreeing to their proposed safety plan early in the process. With this understanding you will be much better prepared to defend your rights during a child dependency investigation in Florida.
Why DCF Pressures Parents to Agree to a Safety Plan
In a safety plan you agree to specific actions, such as submit to a sexual abuse evaluation and you agree that your children are dependent on the state. This child dependency status is what gives DCF the power to remove your children from your home if they deem that necessary. If you do not agree to it, this status could still be ordered by a judge in a trial. In most cases this status is temporary, but it can be made permanent.
Agreeing to Child Dependency With a Safety Plan Ends the Parent's Right to a Trial
However, agreeing to a safety plan ends the parent's right to a dependency trial. Sadly, many parents who otherwise might fare well at a trial buckle to the pressure and consent to a safety plan. And once the parent consents to it, DCF can arbitrarily impose extra requirements to this plan because there is no looming trial.
Denying the Petition for Child Dependency and Voluntarily Complying with the Safety Plan
Conversely, if a parent denies the petition for dependency, but voluntarily complies with the proposed safety plan, he or she will gain considerable leverage. First, this forces that agency to develop a trial strategy that takes time and resources away from the hundreds of other cases they are working on. Second, demanding a trial confronts it with a scary possibility: losing at the trial.
Devoting an abundance of resources for a trial which ends in a finding of no dependency represents a nightmare scenario for DCF. Not only will it have wasted precious resources, it also lose credibility with the judge that will presides over dozens of other cases they prosecute.
DCF Makes Decisions Based on Cost-Benefits Calculations
Also, keep in mind that, unlike private DCF attorneys who represent individuals, attorneys for the state do not feel any pressure from a particular person to act “out of principle” or to achieve some kind of vindication. Just as in all state agencies, every file is viewed through the cold lens of its costs vs. its benefits.
For example, a client of mine recently succeeded in convincing DCF to dismiss its petition for child dependency altogether on the eve of her trial. I advised her to cooperate voluntarily with the proposed safety plan, while remaining steadfast in her denial of the petition.
After DCF realized that: (1) my client’s eager participation in a safety plan deprived it of any ammunition that she was of not “doing enough” to reunify with her children (a common accusation) and (2) their underlying accusations against her of failing to protect her children against domestic violence were questionable to begin with. Therefore, it simply dismissed its petition for dependency against her. For this Florida state agency, the time and energy needed for a trial simply did not justify the risk of losing.
In conclusion, the best way to protect your rights during a DCF investigation is to refuse dependency and follow the safety plan.
How AAA Family Law Can Help
If you are a parent facing a petition for dependency from the Florida Department of Children and Families, I encourage you to call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 and schedule an initial free family lawyer consultation at our Altamonte Springs office.
At the consultation you will have the opportunity to explain your family law situation. Then I will lay out to you a realistic plan of legal action to achieve your objectives. Lastly, I will quote you a fixed or flat attorney retainer fee before you sign a contract or make any payment, not an hourly rate whose total cost you cannot predict.
- Department of Children and Families (DCF)
- What Drives DCF and How to Adapt to It
- Dealing With DCF
- How DCF Interprets Omissions as Failing to Protect Your Children
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