Frequently Asked Questions in Child Abuse Cases
If you have been accused of child abuse, we know that you have a lot of questions. Contact an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss your case in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, or the surrounding counties.
What happens in a child protective investigation in Florida?
Florida law requires an investigation anytime someone reports that a child is being abused or neglected to the Florida Abuse Hotline. These reports are often made by doctors, teachers, child case providers, but can also be made by neighbors, an ex-boyfriend or spouse, or any other person. The identity of the person making the allegation is kept confidential in most cases.
After an investigation begins, the child protective investigator will contact you to discuss any abuse or neglect allegations. The investigator may also talk to other family members, child case providers, and neighbors. Each county has its own child protective investigation unit and dependency courts, including Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Polk County, Pasco County, and Hernando County, Florida.
Can an attorney help me during the Child Protective Investigation?
You are not required to assist the protective investigator by making any statements that may incriminate you or another family member. Hiring an attorney as soon as you find out about the investigation may benefit you in many ways.
First, the attorney can discuss with you the best way to cooperate with the investigation, without incriminating yourself or another family member in the process. Your attorney can make sure that any statements you make to a child protective investigator are accurately recorded and not later misconstrued.
The attorney can assist you in cooperating with the investigation while at the same time not causing additional trauma or stress to the child involved. Be aware that the investigator can speak to your children even without your permission. Additionally, Florida law allows court action if a parent makes a child unavailable for any protective investigation interview.
What if a false reports of child abuse or neglect is made to Child Protective Investigation?
Especially when the parents are going through a divorce, child custody battle, or child support modification action, one parent may make a false allegation against another in an attempt to gain some advantage in an upcoming court hearing.
In the event that the child protective investigator determines that “false report” was made, the investigator may turn the case over to law enforcement to determine whether any charges should be filed against the person making the false accusation. Unfortunately, the person making the false accusations are rarely if ever prosecuted by the state attorney’s offices in Florida.
What action can a Child Protective Investigator take during the investigation?
In some investigations, the case will be closed without any action because the investigation shows that no evidence exists to show child abuse or child neglect.
In other cases, the child protective investigator will create a “safety plan” that is intended to correct some perceived problem in the home. In other cases, the investigator may request court intervention through a dependency hearing.
Once the Child Protective Investigator recommends that you take some action, you can refuse to cooperate. That refusal, however, can be used by the Child Protective Investigator to take other action including court intervention.
Having an attorney to advise you during each stage of the investigation can be particularly helpful. In cases in which physical evidence exists, the child protective investigator may require a medical evaluation.
What happens if the Child Protective Investigator requests court intervention?
If the child protective investigator makes a finding that court intervention is needed to ensure the safety of any child, then a petition will be filed in the dependency court, and a hearing will be scheduled.
At this stage of the process, the court may be required to appoint an attorney to represent you if you are not able to afford to hire a private attorney to represent you.
Can Child Protective Investigations take my child out of the home?
In certain cases, the child protective investigator may take the child out of your home. The child can be placed with a relative or family friend, or in certain cases, in a children’s shelter or foster care.
The investigator will require you to turn over the contact information for any possible family members who might be willing to take the children temporarily. A hearing is scheduled within 24 hours after the child is taken out of the home.
At that hearing, the court might decide to return the children to your care or to place the children with a relative on a temporary basis.
Can I see my child if the child is placed outside of the home?
If the court determines that placement outside of the parent’s home is required, the parents are usually entitled to visitation with the child or children. The caseworker in your case will help coordinate the visitations, including the time and place where the visits will occur.
You may be granted permission to talk to your children by phone even on those days when a visitation is not scheduled. The child protective investigator may ask you to sign medical and health forms so that the children’s medical needs can be addressed without your permission.
What happens in the dependency court proceedings?
The dependency laws in Florida require that the court find a safe and stable home for the children within 12 months. The courts work with the parents or other relatives to find the best long-term placement for the children. Reunification with the parents should be the goal of any dependency action, unless such reunification is clearly not in the best interest of the children.