The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is responsible for investigating claims of abuse and neglect toward children. Once its investigation is complete, the department makes recommendations to the court as to what is in the best interest of the child, based upon its findings. Florida courts must walk a fine line between protecting the rights of parents and ensuring the health and safety of a child in cases where allegations of abuse is a concern.
Right to a Fair Hearing
Under Florida law, when the Florida Department of Children and Families (dcf.state.fl.us) makes a recommendation that a child be removed from her parents as a result of abuse, neglect or the parent's inability to properly care for the child, the parent has the right to a fair hearing on the matter within 30 days. This requirement also holds true in cases where an absentee parent's parental rights are being involuntarily terminated on the grounds of abandonment or neglect. In all matters, the Florida Department of Children and Families must make every reasonable effort to locate and notify the parent of the upcoming hearing on the matter.
Right to Representation
When a parent's custodial or legal rights are called into question, Florida law mandates that the parent has the right to legal representation in order to ensure that the parent's rights are equally represented. If the parent is unable to afford to pay for an attorney on his own, he has the right to request that an attorney be appointed to represent him. Florida law also mandates that the parent has the right to present relevant witnesses to testify on his behalf and to present evidence to support his innocence and demonstrate his fitness as a parent.
Right to Visitation
In cases where a child has been temporarily removed from the home through court order under advice of DCF, a parent has the right to regular visitation with the child in most circumstances. In circumstances where the court has determined that unsupervised visitation with the parent would not be in the child's best interest, the court may designate a court-appointed worker to supervise visitation or order that an approved family member be present during scheduled visits.
Right to Regain Custody
Under Florida law, parents have the right to petition the court to regain custody of their child once the parent has successfully completed all necessary parenting classes, drug or alcohol treatments and court-mandated counseling. However, the parent must demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that she no longer poses a risk to the safety and security of her child and agree to undergo regular follow-up visits with the Florida Department of Children and Families if the court deems necessary.