Department of Children and Families (DCF) and Juvenile Law
The McConnell Family Law Group’s juvenile law practice is focused on the two main areas of juvenile law: child protection (matters in which the State, often through DCF, seeks to intervene in family relations, such as removing children from their parents), and delinquency (cases where children are arrested and charged with criminal offenses). In both areas, it's imperative to have experienced legal representation to protect your rights and the rights of your child, and to achieve the best possible outcome for your family.
The handling of these matters is of the utmost importance as their outcome can have a major affect on your child’s life and your relationship with him or her going forward. At McConnell Family Law Group, we understand the significance of each case and have the necessary experience to resolve your issue in a caring, knowledgeable, and diligent manner.
Accusations of child abuse or neglect can tear your family apart. If your child has been taken away from you or you are under a DCF investigation, it is important to obtain an experienced juvenile attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and give you the best chance to keep your family together.
If DCF has evidence of child abuse and/or neglect, they will undergo an investigation of you and your family. They may visit your home, interview you and your child, and if they substantiate the claims against you, they can take your child away from you.
It is important to know though, that you do have a voice in this process, If DCF substantiates that you committed child abuse or neglect, it must afford you the opportunity to request an administrative hearing, at which you can challenge their findings. After your request and before the hearing, a DCF staff member will review the substantiation, and this review will result in either DCF reversing their decision and dropping the allegations, or upholding their decision and proceeding to a hearing. If your case goes to a hearing, it is there that you will have your opportunity to present your side of the story and defend yourself against the abuse and/or neglect allegations.
At McConnell Family Law Group, our experienced juvenile law attorneys will do all that is possible to get the allegations against you dropped prior to a hearing, or if necessary, help you to best defend yourself at a hearing.
If your child is under 18 years of age and accused of committing a crime, he or she will likely be arrested and summoned to appear in the Connecticut juvenile court where the alleged crime took place. Although the Connecticut juvenile court system is rehabilitative in nature and often more lenient on defendants than its adult counterpart, it can be a more onerous process for child defendants and their families, as there is often more supervision, probation, monitoring, and restrictions involved. To obtain the best possible outcome for your child, it is recommended that you obtain qualified legal counsel to represent your child in this process.
Judicial v. Non-Judicial Disposition
After your child is arrested and a court date is set, the juvenile court will review your child’s case and assign it to either a “non-judicial” or “judicial” procedural track. Less serious offenses are designated as “non-judicial” and are removed from the courtroom process and turned over to a juvenile probation officer, who will work with your child and family, monitor the case, and order an appropriate plan for rehabilitation, such as community service, counseling, drug testing and/or other requirements such as following parents’ rules and curfews, consistent attendance at school, getting good grades, etc.
“Judicial” designations are for more serious offenses and usually arise when: a child has a prior record of juvenile charges; a child is charged with a felony; the charges against the child involve the sale or possession of certain drugs or firearms; or the child has not been compliant with the probation officer’s recommendations in a non-judicial disposition.
When a case is determined to be a “judicial” one, the case proceeds in a similar fashion to an adult criminal case but unlike adult criminal court, the juvenile courtroom is closed to the public and all cases are strictly confidential. Further, police and court records are sealed and are not available for public review.
In a “judicial” matter, a Superior Court judge presides over the case, and the case begins with the child’s attorney and the prosecutor entering into plea discussions. If an agreement ultimately cannot be reached, then the matter proceeds to a trial. At this point especially, it is important that you have a qualified juvenile attorney to best defend your child and protect his or her interests.
At McConnell Family Law, we have substantial knowledge and experience in delinquency matters throughout Connecticut, whether “judicial” or “non-judicial”, and can provide the guidance and expertise needed to give you the peace of mind that your child’s best interests are being taken care of and protected.
The job of DCF is to investigate allegations of child abuse and/or neglect. There are several kinds of abuse and neglect including physical, emotional, sexual, educational, moral, and medical. DCF has particular definitions of what constitutes abuse and neglect and through their investigation, they will be looking for evidence that supports these allegations.
Allegations of abuse and/or neglect can come from family members, neighbors, friends, or a mandated reporter. A mandated reporter is someone designated by Connecticut statute who must report suspected abuse or neglect. Doctors, nurses, teachers, counselors, and police officers are some examples of mandated reporters. They are under penalty of law if they do not report, so oftentimes they will make a report even if there is little to no evidence supporting such claims.
While you do not technically need an attorney for a DCF investigation, it is strongly recommended that you have one. If DCF has evidence of child abuse and/or neglect, it has the power to remove your children from your home, interfere with your right to reside there, interview your children without your being present, and institute unnecessary services and treatment orders on your family. Considering the severity of these potential outcomes, it is recommended that you have an experienced attorney to guide you through this process and protect your rights.
You do not have to speak with DCF investigators or let them into your homes, but there may be consequences for turning them away. The best way to proceed is to take their name and number and let them know your lawyer will contact them to learn more about the case so they can provide you with the best advice. Further, at the beginning of an investigation, the DCF investigator may show up at your door unannounced, catching you by surprise. In this case, you can ask DCF to come back at another time after you have had the opportunity to speak to a lawyer.
No, but if you deny DCF access to your home, DCF has the option of taking aggressive temporary custody actions like imposing a 96-hour custody hold on your children, filing an Order of Temporary Custody against your family, or filing a neglect petition against both parents. It's better to avoid these situations and let your attorney try and get your case dismissed before it gets to this point.
At the end of its investigation, DCF will either close the case against you if it finds no abuse or neglect, or substantiate the allegations and take further action. If abuse and/or neglect are found, DCF may find that you pose a risk to the health or safety of your children and recommend placement on the DCF central registry. DCF also has the power to seek court intervention to impose services and plans on your family during and after their initial investigation.
Yes. If DCF substantiates that you committed child abuse or neglect, it must afford you the opportunity to request an administrative hearing, at which you can challenge their findings. After your request and before the hearing, a DCF staff member will review the substantiation, and this review will result in either DCF reversing their decision and dropping the allegations, or upholding their decision and proceeding to a hearing. If your case goes to a hearing, it is there that you will have your opportunity to present your side of the story and defend yourself against the abuse and/or neglect allegations.
A DCF abuse/neglect hearing is similar to a civil court trial. However, the rules of evidence are not as strictly followed as in a trial. DCF has the burden of proving the allegations against you by “a preponderance of the evidence.” You can question DCF’s witnesses and call your own except, in most cases, you cannot have the alleged child victim testify. You can use evidentiary exhibits to help defend yourself. However, as mentioned, the rules of evidence are much more relaxed than in a civil trial, and DCF can rely on hearsay and other evidence that might be inadmissible in court to try to prove its allegations.
Yes. Not only are you entitled to hire an attorney to represent you during DCF investigations and hearings, but it’s a good idea to have an experienced attorney by your side to best defend your rights and keep your family together.
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