Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.
Florida Department of Children and Families is the state entity responsible for protecting children from abuse, neglect, and other actions that are detrimental to the child’s well-being. When DCF gets involved with a family, they typically start an investigation to determine the truth of the allegations. If the State feels that there are issues, but they do not warrant the child being removed from the home, they may request the family to participate in programs or a case plan under DCF supervision. If a family refuses their services, then DCF may find that without the offered services, the child is in harm and needs to removed from the home. Once that determination is made, DCF may file a Petition for Shelter with the court.
At a shelter hearing, the court may find that the child needs to be placed with foster care or another relative and DCF will then file an action with the court for dependency. Often, the goal is to reunify the family and child, but if the family is unwilling to cooperate with DCF programs or the allegations are too severe, then permanent placement within foster care or another family member may be necessary.
You are entitled to have a court appoint an attorney for you at the shelter hearing, or you can hire your own attorney. However, it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to best understand your rights and options.