CTFosterAdopt Manual - Chapter 5
Legal Status of Children Placed in DCF Licensed Homes
- 96-Hour Hold
- Order of Temporary Custody (OTC)
- Termination of Parental Rights (TPR)
- Voluntary Placement
People who You May Meet in the Legal Process
- Assistant Attorney General
- Attorney for the Child
- Attorney for the Parent
Psychological Evaluator (Court Ordered)
Introduction: State and federal laws that address situations where children have been abused and/or neglected have two primary goals: protection of the children from further harm; and ensuring that children have a permanent home. In addition, these laws protect the rights of both the children involved and their parents should there be the need for legal proceedings in court.
DCF is mandated by state statute to provide appropriate services for children who have been abused and / or neglected. When DCF believes that it is in a child's best interest to remove him/her from his/her home, DCF must petition the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters for legal permission. When children are assessed to be in imminent danger, DCF may evoke a 96 hour hold and remove the child. DCF must file a Motion for Order of Temporary Custody and a Neglect/Un-cared for petition with the court within 96 hours if continued removal is necessary. Once DCF has custody of a child, DCF must apply to the court for permission to revoke (i.e., end) its legal custody. When DCF has made and met all reasonable efforts to reunify and the family has failed to rehabilitate, the next step is to file petitions to terminate parental rights (TPR). Usually the permanency plan is adoption when TPR petitions are filed.
People You May Meet in the Legal Process:
- Judge: Each Superior Court for Juvenile Matters has one or more judges assigned to oversee the cases that have been filed in that court.
- Attorney for the child: An attorney is appointed by the court for every child. Typically, siblings will have the same attorney. The role of this attorney is to represent the wishes of the child(ren). The attorneys are assigned by the Commission on Child Protection. The attorneys are expected to interview and observe the child(ren) as it relates to the child’s age and maturity.
- Guardian Ad Litem: Occasionally, a court will appoint a “Guardian Ad Litem," an attorney whose role it is to represent the “best interests” of a child as a child’s best interests may be different than what a child says he/she wants.
- Attorney for the Parent: If a parent whose child is being represented in court is unable to afford his/her own attorney, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the legal rights and wishes of the parent.
- Psychological Evaluator (Court Ordered): A judge may want additional information about the mental status of a child or parent or about the relationship between the two in order to reach a conclusion in the matter before the court. In such situations, the judge can order that a child or parent be evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist and that a report of the findings be presented. Licensed parents are occasionally interviewed as well.
- Assistant Attorney General: State agencies, including DCF, have attorneys assigned to assist employees regarding the legal aspects of their work and to represent them in court.
The investigation of Abuse, Neglect, and the Risk of Abuse: DCF is required to investigate reports of suspected abuse or neglect of children under the age of 18 in Connecticut. All such reports are made to the Child Abuse and Neglect CARELINE at 1-800-842-2288.
Some people in the community are “mandated reporters," such as medical doctors, teachers, therapists, and police officers. Others, such as family members, neighbors, and you as foster parents are encouraged to report abuse and neglect or the suspicion of abuse and neglect. The reporter can request that his/her name be available only to DCF staff and not be given to those persons being reported.
Note: Parents licensed by DCF are not mandated (i.e. required) reporters, but if a foster child tells you about past or present abuse or neglect, the child’s worker must be informed.
In order for a report to be accepted for investigation, the allegations made in the report must meet the statutory definitions of abuse or neglect and the alleged perpetrator must be the parent/guardian or someone who was given access to the child by the parent/guardian or a person who has been entrusted with the care of a child, such as a teacher or coach.
Depending upon the severity of the reported abuse/neglect, an investigations social worker is assigned to investigate the same day, the next day, or within the following two days. The investigation will include home visits to the family, interviews with the child and all household members, contacts with doctors, school, other community services, domestic violence and substance abuse assessments, criminal record checks on all adults, etc.
If there is probable cause to believe that the child is in imminent risk of physical harm from the child's surroundings and immediate removal from such surroundings is necessary to ensure the child's safety, the Department has the responsibility and the authority to remove that child and any other child similarly situated from that family/environment for a period not to exceed 96 hours. DCF must then pursue an OTC from the court within that 96-hour period if continued placement is necessary to ensure the child(ren)’s safety. These 96-hour holds are taken when the court is not available i.e. weekends or due to the immanency of the situation there is not a reasonable amount of time to obtain a court order.
In situations where the court is available, DCF will file a Motion for an Order of Temporary Custody with the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. In support of the OTC, DCF will file an affidavit explaining the facts of the situation. The Judge will make a determination based solely on the facts supplied in the affidavit. The parents do not have an opportunity to contest the facts at this time. The judge has the responsibility and authority to issue an “Order of Temporary Custody” (OTC) and place the child under the care and custody of DCF. DCF also files a petition alleging that the child has been abused, neglected, or is uncared for along with any Motion for an Order of Temporary Custody.
Court Proceedings: DCF has the legal authority to file "neglect petitions" when a child(ren) is being abused, neglected or is uncared for. In situations where the neglect or abuse places the child in imminent risk of physical harm as described above, the Department will file a Motion for Order of Temporary Custody along with the neglect petition. The Court will address the Order of Temporary Custody first as the immediate safety of the child is in question.
The Order of Temporary Custody (OTC) Hearing Process: The Court will schedule a preliminary hearing on the Order of Temporary Custody within 10 days of the order. At the preliminary hearing, the Court will formally advise the parents of their rights including the right to an attorney and the right to request an evidentiary hearing that will be held within 10 days of the hearing. The parents also have the ability to not contest the order of temporary custody. If the parents do not contest the order of temporary, custody will remain with Department. The Court will order "Specific Steps" that the parent(s) must make to regain custody of the child.
If the parents decide to contest the order of temporary custody, an evidentiary hearing must be held within ten (10) days of the Preliminary Hearing and must be held on consecutive days. At the hearing, DCF will have to present evidence to the Court through witnesses and documentation to prove that the child was in imminent risk of physical harm from the child's surroundings and immediate removal from such surroundings was necessary to ensure the child's safety. The parents have the ability through their attorneys to cross-examine witnesses and to present their case. The attorney for the child and guardian ad litem, if applicable, represents the child's legal interests at the hearing. The Court after hearing all of the evidence renders a decision and either sustains the OTC or vacates the OTC and returns custody to the parent(s). Once the issue of temporary custody is resolved, the Court will address the neglect petition.
Plea Hearings: After a neglect petition has been filed, a plea hearing is scheduled at which time the Court formally advises the parent/guardian of their rights as described above. The parent(s) again have the opportunity to admit to or deny the allegations presented in the neglect petition. In most cases, the parents will enter pro forma denials and the case will be scheduled for a case status conference.
Case Status Conference / Case Management Conference: The conference is an opportunity for all of the parties to discuss the case outside of the presence of a judge. Several issues are discussed such as whether the parents are going to request an evidentiary hearing on the neglect petition or whether they are going to enter a plea agreement. The parties will also discuss the steps the parents must take to regain or retain custody of the child. The parties may address whether a psychiatric or psychological evaluation is needed. The case will be assigned further court dates based upon the outcome of the conference.
Plea and Disposition Hearing: In situations where the parents decide not to contest the allegations in the neglect petition, the parent(s) often enter a "nolo contendere" plea. The "nolo contendere" plea simply means that they are waiving their right to an evidentiary hearing and are not contesting the allegations in the petition. The Court will then adjudicate that the child has been neglected or abused or is uncared for. An adjudication is the court’s determination of the validity of the allegations in the petitions.
Disposition: After the adjudication there must be a "disposition", or determination of what is in the best interest of the child. The Court may enter an order committing the child to the care and custody of DCF until further order of the Court. DCF is the child's guardian under an order of commitment. Another alternative is for the Court to return the custody of the child to parent(s) under a period of Court ordered Protective Supervision. The third alternative is for the Court to transfer guardianship of the child to third party.
Permanency Plan Hearing: The Court will hold a permanency plan hearing nine months after the child has been placed in the care and custody of DCF. DCF must file a permanency plan that is in the child best interests. The permanency plan may include the goal of revocation of commitment and reunification of the child with the parent(s); transfer of guardianship; termination of parental rights and adoption; long-term foster care with a relative licensed as a foster parent; or other planned permanent living arrangement ordered by the court.
Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): The Court will schedule another plea hearing when the Department files a Petition for the Termination of Parental rights. The Court will again advise the parent(s) of his/her rights to an attorney and to contest the petition. The case will then be set down for a case management/case status conference as described above. At this conference, the parties will focus on whether the parent(s) are going to contest to TPR or if he/she will consent. The parties will also discuss the potential for a cooperative post adoption agreement. If no agreement is reached, the Court may set trial dates to have a full evidentiary hearing.
Confidentiality of Court Proceedings: It is important to understand that Juvenile Court proceedings are confidential. Under Conn. General Statutes Section 46b-124, All records of cases of juvenile matters are confidential and can only be disclosed to any third party upon a court order. Some of the records covered by the statute are medical, psychological, psychiatric social welfare studies and reports by public or private institutions, social agencies and clinics are considered records.
Pursuant to CONNECTICUT GENERAL STATUTES § 46b - 120 (6) :
“a child may be convicted as “delinquent” who has violated (A) any federal or state law or municipal or local ordinance, other than an ordinance regulating behavior of a child in a family, with service needs, (B) any order of the Superior Court or (C) conditions of probation as ordered by the court;”
These are adolescents who have committed offenses that are crimes when committed by adults such as assault, stealing, drug abuse or have violated court expectations or probation. These adolescents may be adjudicated “delinquent” and placed on probation or committed to DCF as a delinquent child. A child committed to DCF as a delinquent may placed in a residential facility or the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (a DCF facility for delinquent boys). Some children may be both committed to DCF due to abuse/neglect/uncared for AND committed to DCF as a delinquent.
NOTE: Police will contact the parent or legal guardian of children age 15 and younger if they are questioning them in the course of an arrest. If the child placed in your home is in this situation and you believe that DCF has not been called, you are encouraged to do so.
Legal Status of Children Placed in DCF Licensed Homes: It is important for licensed families to know the legal status of each child placed with them. The child’s legal status determines what you can do for and with the child. Each child’s legal status will be one of the following:
- Voluntary Placement: occurs when the birth parent/guardian gives permission for the out-of-home placement of the child and they are given the name and address of the person with whom the child is living. During the 90-day maximum voluntary placement, the parent(s) retain rights and responsibilities to and for the child, including authorization of medical care, educational placements, consent to marriage, enlistment in armed forces, baptism, and other legal decisions. DCF may authorize necessary medical care if the parent(s) cannot be reached but may not authorize any procedures requiring anesthesia. At any time during the 90 days, the parent(s) have the right to the return of the child. If returning home places the child in immediate physical danger, DCF will take appropriate legal action.
- 96-Hour Hold: A 96-hour occurs when DCF or a hospital exercises the responsibility and authority, without court involvement, to take immediate temporary custody of the child. The parent remains the legal guardian. Therefore, the parents have the right to make medical and other types of decisions for the child. However during a 96 hour hold, DCF shall provide the child with all necessary care, including medical care, which may include an examination by a physician or mental health professional with or without the consent of the child's parents, guardian or other person responsible for the child's care, provided reasonable attempts have been made to obtain consent of the child's parents or guardian or other person responsible for the care of such child. If it is determined that the child should remain in care beyond 96 hours, DCF must file a motion for an Order of Temporary Custody with Juvenile Court.
- Order of Temporary Custody (OTC): An Order of Temporary Custody (OTC) occurs when the juvenile court makes a decision to assign immediate care and custody of the child to the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. DCF or another suitable agency or person has custody of the child. However, the parent remains the legal guardian.
- Commitment: occur after the juvenile court has determined that a child has been abused, neglected or is uncared for. The court places the child under the guardianship of the Commissioner of DCF until commitment is revoked by the court. DCF has authority to make all decisions for the child, although parents are consulted when appropriate. The commitment is reviewed at least annually.
- Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): occurs when the parental rights of the child’s parents have been terminated. Juvenile court generally appoints DCF as the statutory parent. The parents whose rights have been terminated have 20 days to appeal the decision. The child is legally free for adoption after the appeal period or until the appeal has been concluded by the court, and may be considered for adoption. DCF has authority over all decisions and parents have no rights nor are they consulted about decisions.
Licensed Parent Involvement In Court and At Administrative Hearings: Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-129(o), you as a foster parent, prospective adoptive parent or relative caregiver shall receive notice and have the right to be heard for purposes of this section in Superior Court in any proceeding concerning a foster child living with you. Under this section of the statute, you also have the right to be heard and comment on the best interests of a child which is brought not more than one year after the last day that you provided care for the child. If you choose to attend a hearing, please notify the child’s DCF social worker or attorney when you arrive. You will be called at the time the judge determines.
You may also be given notice of certain administrative hearings. An administrative hearing allows for:
- a party to challenge DCF's plan for treatment or willingness to fund specific programs or placements, and
- a party to have the right to due process.
Per DCF policy, there are several types of administrative hearings and policy identifies the guidelines for requesting such hearings. Please note that under certain circumstances, you may have a right to request a hearing to contest the removal of a child from your care. Please see DCF policy and State Agency Regulations for further details.
Keeping Records and Notes: When you are asked to testify in court, you will not be able to look at the social worker's notes, so it is important to keep your own notes or a copy of them. Often you will have information that no one else has heard or seen directly. The following suggestions for ongoing record keeping may be helpful:
Keep track of phone calls to the child, including:
- Name of caller
- Date and time and length of call
- Arrangements made as result of the call
- If call was from the child’s parent(s), was their conversation to or about the child?
- What was the child's reaction during and following the conversation?
- Other comments about the call?
Keep track of visits to the child from his/her parents/family/relatives using the DCF form known as the Visitation Log” (DCF-822) including:
- Was visit scheduled or unscheduled?
- Did parent arrive and depart as scheduled?
- How long did the parent stay?
- If a scheduled visit was not kept, did parent call to cancel?
- If the parent called, did the parent reschedule visit?
- If not, did parent call later with an explanation or to reschedule?
- What was the quality of the visit? Did parent interact with the child, or with you?
- What were the child’s reactions: before, during, after the visit?
- Did the parent take pictures of the child?
- Did the parent send or bring gifts? When? What were they? What was the child's reaction to the gifts and response to the parent?
- Did/Does the parent send cards (birthday, holidays)?
Keep track of other significant information:
- Date of placement
- Therapy /medical appointments
- Behavior changes in the child
- Significant events in the child’s life: e.g., injuries, sicknesses, awards, trips
- Significant people in the child’s life: e.g., friends, coaches, teachers, etc.
- Child’s stated preference for placement resource
It is possible that you may be ordered, to appear in court. If you are served such a notice, contact the child’s DCF social worker to discuss the possible situations that may arise. It is at such a time that the factual information you have recorded will be most valuable. Your input may help the court to make decisions about the child’s safety and the best permanent plan for the child.
- Before the court date, ask your child’s social worker to help arrange a time for you to meet or talk with the attorney for DCF (the assistant attorney general: the AAG) and with the attorney for your child. Ask them to go over the questions they will want you to answer in court;
- Prepare ahead of time so that you know the key facts about the case;
- Speak clearly and slowly;
- Use appropriate language;
- Answer the questions to the best of your knowledge;
- Answer only the question that you were asked;
- Listen carefully to the question. Don't answer it unless you understand it. If you do not understand, ask to have it repeated or clarified;
- Don't guess; if you don't know the answer to the question, say so.
- State only what you remember;
- If an objection is made to a question being asked of you, wait until the judge makes a ruling on the objection before answering;
- Always tell the truth;
- Dress appropriately.