There are three ways DCF can become involved with a child. The first is when
a parent voluntarily seeks DCF services. Usually, the parent is just looking for
some support, but voluntary DCF services tend to be extremely limited. The
availability of these services is subject to funding, and you have to work hard to
Voluntary DCF services include parent aid and support; parenting classes;
youth support, tracking, and mentoring; wrap-around services for support and
stabilization; adventure-based after-school programs; and respite services.
Most of these services are short term (3–9 months) and intended to promote
a child’s stability while also connecting the family to longer-term communitybased
The second way DCF might get involved is through a Child in Need of Services
(CHINS) petition. A CHINS petition may be filed when a child runs away from
home, skips school, breaks school rules, or “refuses to obey the lawful and
reasonable command” of his or her parent(s). p.133
In some cases, parents who seek voluntary DCF services are advised to file a
CHINS petition because the voluntary services are so limited. However, it is
important to be extremely cautious about a CHINS petition. Most advocates
for children believe that CHINS is not a good way to get services for a child
with mental health needs. In addition, if you file a CHINS petition, you stand a
good chance of losing the right to decide what happens to your child—and you
could lose custody of him or her. Keep in mind that once you file a CHINS petition,
you can’t change your mind and take it back. Only a court can terminate a
CHINS proceeding once it has been set in motion.
If you proceed with a CHINS petition, you and your family will become entangled
in a legal procedure that requires periodic court appearances. You will
not be entitled to representation during the court proceedings, even though
you filed the CHINS petition. However, it is important to stay involved as much
as you can. Keep in mind the fact that if the judge is considering awarding legal
custody of your child to DCF (which would affect your
parental rights), then you are entitled to counsel
at that point. If you are not able to pay for your
own lawyer, the court will appoint one for
you at the state’s expense.
If the court awards custody to DCF, then
DCF can make certain decisions about a
child’s care regardless of whether the parents
agree with these decisions. For these
reasons, you should consider other options
A CHINS petition should only
be used as a very last resort.
Parents who have voluntarily
become involved with DCF
should resist pressure to file a
CHINS petition and should be
aware that a CHINS proceeding
can result in loss of custody.
chapter six: other state programs 135
very carefully—such as appealing a school district’s or agency’s eligibility decision—
before filing a CHINS petition.
The third way DCF might get involved with a child is through a Care and
Protection proceeding in Juvenile Court. This happens when DCF has found
reasonable cause to believe that an incident of abuse or neglect of a child by a
caretaker has occurred. In this situation, a parent or caretaker is again in danger
of losing custody of his or her child.
As described above, getting help from DCF in a CHINS or Care and Protection
situation means you will have to share custody of your child with DCF or even
give up custody. Recent changes in the law have made it easier for parents
to request a termination of DCF custody. However, if it seems likely
that DCF is going to be involved with your family, it is important
to always keep the question of custody in mind.