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The Department of Children and Families, used to be The Department of Social Services

The Department of Social Services (DSS), now called the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency responsible for protecting children and helping troubled families. DCF does the following:

  • Investigates all reports that a child may be at risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Provides services to help families in trouble. You can ask for these services on your own. DCF can also ask you to accept services as a condition of letting your children remain in your home.
  • Goes to Court to get permission to remove children from their home if DCF believes that the children are at risk of abuse or neglect. The Court can order you to accept services from DCF as a condition before getting your children back.
  • Is also a licensed child placement agency and can place children in foster care, voluntarily or though a court order.
  • Arranges for the adoption of children.

Voluntary DCF services, CHINS, and Care and Protection

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 get them. 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 services. 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 Advocacy Tip 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.

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