How the Process Works
There are four major components of the dependency process. Those components include the following:
A Shelter Hearing
If the DCF investigation reveals evidence that the children have been abused, neglected, or abandoned, they will remove them from the home immediately. Within 24 hours, the court will hold a hearing to determine if the children should remain out of the home or be returned. Parents must be represented by a family law attorney.
If the parents lack the financial resources to hire an attorney, one will be appointed by the courts. The court will also appoint a Guardian ad Litem who will meet with the child(ren) and all those involved to help determine what is in the child(ren)'s best interests throughout the dependency process.
An Arraignment Hearing
If the court decides to remove the children from the home indefinitely, DCF will file a Petition of Dependency. The court will hold an arraignment hearing to review the charges in the Petition and the parents will admit to the allegations, deny them, or consent to a case plan without admitting or denying the allegations — with most parents choosing to consent to a case plan without any admission of guilt.
If the parents deny the allegations, the court will schedule an evidentiary hearing to hear from witnesses and to receive evidence for the Judge to consider before ruling on the matter. If the court finds sufficient evidence to support the allegations, the court will schedule a disposition hearing. If the court does not find sufficient evidence, it will dismiss the case and the children will be returned to the parent(s).
A Case Plan
If a Case Plan is agreed to or Ordered following a Disposition hearing, the parents or other alleged offenders will be required to comply with the case plan and participate in the services the Department and its providers determine are needed to eliminate the identified risks to the children. Generally, the parents have up to one year to complete the plan; however, that time may be shortened or lengthened depending on the unique circumstances of each case.
The Process of Reuniting With Your Children
When the court determines that all risks to the children have been eliminated and that the home environment is safe for their return, the court will establish a reunification process to reunite the children with their parents. The court, however, will direct that the parents/children ccontinue to be monitored for six months following reunification. During this time, the Department will intervene if new complaints or risks arise.
Work With Skilled Dependency Attorneys in Tallahassee, Florida
The dependency process can be both lengthy and rigorous for parents and children. This is why it is so critical that parents be represented by an experienced family law attorney throughout this legal process. A failure to develop a comprehensive plan to alleviate the risks children face could lead to sheltering them in foster care for an undetermined length of time, or even the complete termination of parental rights. That is not a risk that any parent wants to take with their children, regardless of the circumstances of the case.