DCF stands for Department of Children and Families. Depending on where you're located, they may also call themselves DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) or CPS (Child Protective Services. No matter what combination of letters they're using, there is usually only one reason that you might find them at your door – someone called them and reported that one or more of your children was being neglected or abused. This can be a harrowing experience for any parent, particularly one who's not guilty of any wrongdoing. What should you do when you get that knock? Here are some tips to help you get through it:
Should You Let Them in?
Whether or not to allow a DCF worker into your home is a tricky question, and for the moment, it's up to your individual judgment. While many anti-DCF websites will tell you to insist on a warrant, this will not always deter a DCF worker. The Department of Children and Families is not a police force, and may not be subject to the fourth amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. On the other hand, in some cases, courts have found that as a state agency, DCF is subject to the fourth amendment.
To complicate matters further, even a police officer can enter your home without a warrant if there are "exigent circumstances", meaning that there's reason to believe that someone is in imminent risk of harm. A credible-seeming abuse claim may rise to the level of exigent circumstances for DCF purposes.
Plus, in most cases, DCF can interview, and even remove, your children from school or daycare without your knowledge or permission, so disallowing them entry into your home might only forestall the inevitable. It's your choice to make, but keep in mind that in some cases, allowing them entry may be the key to defusing the situation, while refusing them may escalate it.
Should You Talk to Them?
DCF agents won't read you your Miranda rights, but they will take note of everything that you say, and they can use anything that you say against you in court. Furthermore, it's worth remembering that DCF agents often work in cooperation with the police, so if there is the potential for a criminal case, the things you say may work against you in criminal court.
Whether or not you allow them in, it's best to say as little as possible. Don't be rude or combative, but don't attempt to explain away the allegations, make excuses for any flaws in your house, or in any way argue with the DCF worker. You never know what will come back to bite you later.
Should You Call a Lawyer?
Yes! A family lawyer with experience in dealing with your local DCF agency can help protect your family's rights in this situation. If you decide to refuse the DCF worker entry, call a lawyer immediately. If you decide to allow them in, do so, then excuse yourself and call a lawyer immediately. If the DCF agent removes your child from your care, or from their school or daycare, call a lawyer immediately.
Even if the DCF worker leaves without commenting on the veracity of the allegations and without removing your children, you should still call a lawyer immediately. A lawyer can help you figure out what your next steps should be, track down information if the DCF worker doesn't get back to your quickly, and prevent the agency from further interfering in your life if the accusations are unfounded.
Remember that DCF agencies must investigate any and all claims of abuse and neglect. It does no good to argue with them about it; once an allegation has been made, they have no choice. Don't waste time arguing with the agent. Let your legal representative handle that. Focus instead on ensuring that your legal rights are protected and don't say anything that can be used against you later.
For more information, contact a company like Aaron Law Offices PLLC with any questions or concerns you might have.