What Does it Mean When the State Accuses You of Abuse, Abandonment, or Neglect of Your Child?
Providing adequate care and love for a child is a task parents take pride in and enjoy. Most parents could never fathom doing anything that would harm or endanger their child, but that is exactly the charge leveled against parents at child dependency hearings. Child dependency cases are filed when the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) believes a parent is unfit to care for their child based on allegations that a parent engages in behavior that puts a child’s welfare at risk, or when a parent voluntarily surrenders a child for later adoption. The focus of this post will be on the situation where DCF accuses a parent of abuse, abandonment or neglect.
A mother from Miami is currently learning about the harsh reality that comes with a child dependency case after her child was taken by DCF following a report from two hospital attendants that she left her child in a dumpster. At the initial child dependency hearing, the main topic of discussion was who should receive custody of the child while the case progresses. The judge consented to placing the child in the custody of her father, assuming he passes a drug test and a home study (an assessment to determine if the conditions at the home are safe for a child). If the father fails either, the mother could get conditional custody of the child if she passes a home study. Otherwise, the mother would only be entitled to supervised visitation. This story illustrates how little control parents have in child dependency cases, and the need for parents facing this situation to understand as much as possible about the process in hopes of increasing their chances for full reunification. An overview of what means legally to abandon, abuse or neglect a child will follow below.
The law considers a child abandoned when a parent or legal guardian fails to play a significant role in child care or maintenance, or to establish or maintain a considerable and constructive relationship, despite being available to do so. Establishing and maintaining an extensive and positive relationship with a child typically involves regular contact and communication, along with the exercise of parental rights and responsibilities. Repeated and extended incarcerations of a parent or guardian may be enough to say the child is abandoned.