One of the worst nightmares that parents can face is having their children removed from their custody. For some, that can be the end of their lives as a familial unit and the beginning of an ongoing battle with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to return the kids to the home.
There is no doubt that some children are better off in the custody of others when their parents are abusive, neglectful or in the throes of a powerful addiction. But it's also true that there have been overzealous interventions from agencies that decimate families unnecessarily.
Separating facts from fiction
A DCF worker has to almost have a sixth sense to accurately determine what is best for children after a complaint has been made about the parents or the family's living conditions. A person with an ax to grind can disrupt an intact family based solely on lies and mischaracterizations.
An ex, a disgruntled co-worker or even an estranged family member or friend can allege that parents are abusive or neglectful to their kids even if that allegation has no basis in fact and was made vengefully. It's then up to the DCF worker and the Florida courts to decide whether the children should be taken from their parents' custody.
When molehills become mountains
Many families live paycheck to paycheck. A seemingly minor setback can snowball into a major crisis that can have many negative repercussions.
For example, some families — through no faults of their own — fall on hard times. After an extended illness or a job loss, they may be financially unable to keep the utilities on in the home, something that can trigger the kids being removed from their parents' custody. However, in many instances, the timely intervention of social service agencies can resolve these temporary problems, thus allowing the children to remain living with their parents.
Once in, it's hard to get out
Once a family enters "the system" —that nightmare world of foster homes and judicial oversight — it can be extremely challenging to get free. This is especially true if a parent lacks understanding of their parental rights under Florida law.
In those cases, it's vital to learn all about your rights and responsibilities as a parent, including any barriers to custody.