This blog focuses on the DC child neglect and abuse laws and some of the procedural aspect of a court involved case. Generally a child neglect and abuse case commences with reporting of some kind to the CFSA (“Child and Family Services”).
There are those who are according to the DC Neglect Statute are mandatory reporters. The school and all those involved and have contact with the child at school setting, doctor’s offices, social workers, hospitals, police officers, etc.
Regardless, when a report to hotline has been made, an investigative social worker is assigned to conduct a preliminary investigation. That would involve meeting the reporter in person and discussing some of the specifics, visiting the child at the school setting to investigate child’s environment, and finally to meet with the parents and visits the home.
Often times in cases when there is allegation of physical abuse, the social worker may have the child medically screened or even evaluated and Children’s hospital or other clinics or medical facilities.
If the social worker determines that there is enough direct and supporting evidence to support the claim of child neglect and abuse, a court petition is drafted and filed and an initial hearing is scheduled within 24-36 hours or less and the child is generally removed right away from the home.
A neglect petition may list one or more of the following categories as legal bases/statutory provisions for court-filing a petition:
- Parent or guardian has abandoned, abused the child or that the parent or guardian has failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent such abuse.
- Child is without parental care or control, subsidence, education, or that child lacks physical, mental and emotional health due to parent’s inability to provide such and that inability is not due to financial means.
- The child’s parent is incarcerated, hospitalized or has mental or physical incapacity and thus unable to care for the child.
- Either the parent or the institution caring for the child is unable to continue to provide care – generally this provision is referred to as “refusal to provide care.” Oftentimes parents are fed up with misbehavior of the child and simply no longer can continue to provide care. In these cases they call the agency (CFSA) and request assistance and eventually removal.
- Child who is in imminent danger of abuse. This provision allows the agency to remove other children in care and in the same household due to neglect and abuse alleged one or more child in the home. Generally the physical injuries in these situations are grave and other child are in the same age group with similar disposition giving rise to possibly of mirrored abuse.
- Negligent treatment or maltreatment by the parent or guardian.
- The child is not picked up from hospital following birth after ten calendar days despite the child being ready for discharge and the parent or guardian has not made any arrangement for such or maintained contact with the hospital.
- A child who has controlled substances upon birth.as a direct consequence of parent’s action or inaction. A child who is routinely exposed to or has access to illegal substances or illegal activity.
During the investigative phase of the case, it is imperative to involve the assistance of an experienced DC Child abuse and neglect lawyer.
The agency in this phase of the case will gather all evidence and testimony needed to build a case later filed in court and parents or guardians unknowingly and naively will disclose information or evidence that later will be used against them upon filing of the petition and later in the neglect trial.
Upon filing the petition in court there is an initial hearing to address removal, placement, scheduling, etc. Upon removal the parents are entitled to a probable cause hearing for the government to demonstrate to the court why removal is necessary by – more probable than not — a rather low threshold. Later on at trial the standard is also rather low, preponderance of evidence.
In the criminal cases, the burden of proof in beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction. In the child abuse and neglect cases, the burden is only by preponderance of the evidence.
That is, after an allegation has been made and a petition filed, your child can be removed and committed to care of CFSA for up to 14 months or more based on a court finding of abuse or neglect only on a legal standard that among all other court involved cases, is the lowest, and the easiest to substantiate by the government and the CFSA — the removing arm of the government in these cases.
Accordingly, when it comes to child abuse and neglect laws, your child can be removed simply based on some random reporting and a preliminary investigation by CFSA. And because the standard of review through the proceedings are low all along, it is absolutely critical to have an excellent proactive and effective advocate to prevent removal or to make sure your child is returned to you as soon as legally possible.
If you are either under investigation by the CFSA or removal of your child is imminent or you have a court involved case — contact our Washington DC Family Lawyer to schedule an initial case evaluation.
Refer to our DC Family Law page for more information on this subject.