Understanding Florida Child Dependency Cases

Dependency Cases often interact with family law cases.

Dependency Cases often interact with family law cases.

They are filed when parents are alleged to have abused, abandoned, or neglected their children.  Dependency cases are usually handled by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  However, anyone with knowledge can file a dependency petition.  

There are very distinct definitions.

Abandoned means a parent, while able, does not make significant contributions to a child’s care. This includes spending time with the child and providing for the child.

Neglected means not providing the necessary things in life — food, clothing, or medical treatment. It also includes letting kids live in a place where their health can be significantly impaired. Allegations of abuse includes both threats and acts which lead to physical, mental, or sexual injuries.  

Dependency cases usually start with an investigation.The Department of Children and Families is given broad power to handle these cases, with court supervision. Dependency cases usually start with an investigation. These are supposed to be handled by a single person where possible. This ensures the investigator has a better understanding of the child.

Law enforcement and DCF investigators may take a child into custody if there is probable cause of abuse, neglect, or harm. This is also called taking a child into shelter.

If a child is taken from her parents, there are strict deadlines related to court access.

Parents who cannot afford an attorney are appointed one. Children with disabilities are also given an attorney. Parents are entitled to a trial, which is also called an adjudicatory hearing. If the Court grants the petition, it can return the child to the parents with supervision. Or the court can direct the parents to follow what is called a case plan

The primary goal of dependency cases is to reunify the child with her parents.

However, courts can place the child with a relative, or place the child in foster care, depending on the circumstances. If the parent(s) do not complete their case plan (usually within 12 months), then the case may lead to an adoption or permanent placement with relatives. Again, each case depends on the facts, looking at what is best for the child.