Child abuse and neglect is taken very seriously in New Hampshire. Children must be protected from harm and the laws provide a way to ensure that they are. The Division for Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) investigates situations of potential abuse or neglect that have been reported. DCYF will begin by contacting the parents to begin the investigation. If you have been contacted by DCYF it is important to understand what will happen and how to proceed. You should talk to a New Hampshire family law attorney as soon as possible to discuss the situation. The DCYF is a state agency that is in charge of managing protective programs for children and families. DCFY personnel work to assess the safety of children and create a case plan.
What DCYF Does
There are several main functions that are performed by DCYF. These include intake, assessment, and family services. Intake simply means taking a report of child abuse or neglect. This begins the case process. Assessment is done by personnel from a district office. The case is assigned to an individual who will gather information and assess it. Family services are provided to families where the allegations are founded. These services help to keep children in their homes. In cases where the home is found to be unsafe, the child may be removed and placed in the care of a family member or foster family. This is done through the court system. DCYF receives many reports of abuse or neglect, however, only a small portion of them turn out to have any merit.
Abuse or Neglect Process
If DCYF receives a report of abuse or neglect they must assess it. In doing so, they will send a representative to the home. The parents will be interviewed as well as any other adults living in the home. They will take a look around the home to make sure that it provides a clean and healthy environment for the child. It is helpful to have your attorney present during this meeting, although that isn’t always possible. If there is a finding of abuse or neglect DCYF will file a petition with the district court. It is important to know that parents are entitled to legal representation at an abuse or neglect hearing. You should immediately seek representation from an experienced New Hampshire family law attorney to represent you in court.
The social worker assigned to your case will make an assessment. The assessment will often include an interview with the child (if the child is old enough). You may be asked to cooperate with the process without a court order. Each case is different and the choice of whether to cooperate or not is entirely up to you. You’ll want to talk to a lawyer before making this decision. Without a court order you can legally decline to be interviewed. It is also important to note that you don’t have to allow a social worker to enter your home without a court order. Remember, however, that the social worker is required, by law, to investigate any reports of abuse or neglect. Therefore, if you refuse to allow the social worker in or refuse to speak to her the next step is for the social worker to obtain a court order. Most of the reports made are not founded and sometimes they are fabricated by another parent in order to make a case for custody. The assessment will be done fairly and in many cases the social worker will find no signs of abuse or neglect.
A consent decree is an agreement with DCYF for them to provide services to the family. The consent decree typically requires the parent to admit that abuse or neglect has taken place. Before agreeing to sign any such agreement it is essential that you speak to a New Hampshire family law attorney. Your lawyer will review the case and read the agreement to determine whether it is in your best interest to sign it. While this is certainly a stressful time for parents, do not sign anything before first consulting with your attorney. The consent decree does provide you with certain services, however, they come with a price – you must admit to abuse or neglect. If you don’t agree with the findings do not sign the consent. Admitting to abuse or neglect could mean that you’ll be placed on a list of child abusers.
Seek Legal Help
Families that are facing potential abuse or neglect allegations can feel terrified of the situation. Don’t face the situation alone. A knowledgeable New Hampshire family law attorney understands the law and will be able to assist you in deciding how to handle the problem. Many times a report of possible abuse or neglect is totally unfounded and nothing will come of it. If you choose to refuse to speak to a social worker you may be perceived as having something to hide. Instead, it may be better to simply allow the worker to do her job and make her report. If necessary, your attorney will assist you should you need to attend any type of court appearance.
Keeping Children in Their Homes
In general, DCYF wants to keep children in their homes and will strive to do so – as long as there is no sign of abuse or neglect. If they find something questionable, they will proceed to the next level by filing a court case. Remember that a court case doesn’t mean that you’re going to lose your children. Yes, you should be concerned - but your attorney will be able to help you resolve the situation. The system is designed to protect children from harm whether in or out of their own homes. The purpose of DCYF is to ensure that children are kept safe and they must do everything possible to that end. When a DCYF case is brought against you the best thing you can do is to engage a competent attorney with experience in this area of expertise.
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