When DCF and Criminal Charges Meet
Not every case fits into just one area of the law. One particular type of lega overlap that I often handle is where criminal charges lead to DCF and child protection issues. The police investigate crimes and make arrests. The State's Attorney prosecutes criminal charges in Connecticut's geographic areas and judicial district courts. DCF (Department of Children and Families) investigates allegations of neglect and abuse of children and may file petitions in juvenile court and are represented by the Attorney General's office.
The police and prosecutors can convict you of crimes for which you can be fined, imprisoned or suffer other restrictions to your liberty. DCF can cause you to be substantiated and placed on the central registry, or take your kids, which is possibly the biggest restriction of liberty. The police can and often do refer cases to DCF. They use the DCF-136 form, which is the the mandated reporter report form. Police officers are mandated reporters and must report suspected child abuse or neglect to DCF.
Many police encounters involve children. In some, children are the victims. There are several criminal statutes that are intended to protect children. The most common, and broadest, is Risk of Injury to a Minor (ROI), which is a serious felony. It can involve almost any type of conduct or situation that puts a child at risk of injury or moral danger and can, but does not have to, include sexual conduct. I have had ROI cases that involved leaving a child alone at home or in a car unattended. The misdemeanor Reckless Endangerment can also apply to child endangerment. Connecticut has criminal statutes that require the use of child car seats. That would likely also lead to a DCF report (and possibly a ROI). Physical and sexual abuse can lead to Assault, Sexual Assault and Disorderly Conduct among other criminal charges...and DCF investigations.
There are also situations in which there is criminal activity that does not directly harm the children but occurs in their presence. This occurs often in domestic violence situations and drug raids. The police will probably still make a mandated report to DCF. It is important to note that even if the police do not make an arrest, since child abuse and neglect is not a criminal charge, they can still make a DCF referral.
A mandated report may also lead to administrative issues with DCF: substantiation and registry placement. Those decisions can be appealed. Administrative issues can still come up even if there is no arrest or juvenile petition filed.
Criminal and child protection cases differ in a few ways. One major way is that the set of facts that support a criminal charge ends at the arrest. In a child protection case, facts can continue to develop even after a case is in court.
Managing DCF is a critical part of a criminal case involving child victims. Sometimes it is best to cooperate and use DCF involvement to assist in the criminal case. Other times you do not. There could also be a condition of release to comply with DCF if added by the judge. Criminal proceedings can become relevant in neglect and abuse proceedings, especially if jail is a possibility.
I have dealt with DCF in many criminal cases. A few involved domestic violence and drug charges. In another, my client was arrested for driving drunk with her children in the car. I was able to get her charges dismissed through diversionary programs and keep her kids at home with protective supervision in the juvenile case. In one I have right now, my client was charged with ROI for leaving her kids in the car for a short period of time.
There is no uniform way to handle a criminal case or DCF. That is why it is important to hire an attorney. When dealing with a case on both fornts, it is best to have the same attorney handling both. Criminal defense and child protection are the two main areas of my practice. Contact me if you find yourself in this situation.