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Home Schooling Educational Neglect

Child neglect can take many forms. The failure to provide for a child’s basic survival needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and hygiene, constitutes physical neglect. This type of neglect may also involve a disregard for a child’s safety, such as not providing adequate supervision. Educational neglect involves a parent’s failure to enroll a school-age child in appropriate classes or provide them with appropriate homeschooling. In many states, like Connecticut, educational neglect can be a vague concept that can bring the Department of Children and Families (DCF) knocking on your door to investigate. What is Educational Neglect in Connecticut? The Department of Children and Families in Connecticut broadly defines educational neglect as excessive absences from school. If the DCF discovers that you caused your child to miss too much time from school, they may be able to substantiate a finding of Educational Neglect against you. But Connecticut’s compulsory education statute doesn’t require that you send your child to a specific public or private school. You can be exempt from this law as long as you can show that the child is receiving instruction equivalent to what is taught in public schools. Some states require that homeschooling parents notify a particular state agency of their intentions to homeschool their children. Connecticut doesn’t have this requirement, but the Department of Education does “suggest” parents fill out an Intent to Homeschool form annually. Any rules for reporting are implemented at the school district level, not the state level. Reporting Educational Neglect in Connecticut When there is suspicion that a child is being denied proper care and attention educationally, a concerned individual can report the failure to educate in a homeschool setting to the Connecticut DCF. Once the DCF receives one of these reports, it will initiate an investigation. As a parent, you probably won’t know that anyone has questions about your homeschooling activities until you get a knock on your door from a DCF investigator. This can be a frightening prospect. The DCF has a lot of power, so it’s important to remain calm and use caution if you are contacted. While you don’t want to appear uncooperative, you are also not required to let a DCF investigator into your home or answer questions without first consulting with an attorney. You can politely tell the investigator that you wish to protect your rights and will have your attorney get in touch immediately. Why Homeschooling Educational Neglect Cases Can Be a Problem According to a recent report in the CT Mirror, more than 17,800 fewer students showed up for school in 2021 than the prior year. When the pandemic shut down in-person learning in 2020, many families opted not to have students return to the classroom when given the option. But a lot of those students also weren’t logging on from home for virtual learning sessions, either. The drop in school attendance was found to be disproportionately high in some of the state’s lowest-income districts. At the same time, the number of families reported to the DCF for educational neglect last year doubled compared to previous years. A combination of economic and healthcare crises has led many families throughout the state to become displaced. And the last thing parents and their minor children need is to find out they’re under investigation by DCF. According to the same report, when DCF staff and social workers investigated this massive number of new reports, it turned out that the actual cases of educational neglect were somewhat small. Housing insecurity and instability are major factors that contribute to school absenteeism and the need for homeschooling. According to state data, homeless children had the highest rates of absenteeism last year, with most of the students located in underserved districts. But that doesn’t necessarily mean DCF needs to be involved. Education professionals, medical staff, and neighbors might contact the DCF to report educational neglect when parents are simply trying to provide for their child’s basic needs or dealing with other serious issues.  

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Special Education Issues with DCF Cases

Suspicions of child abuse or neglect are taken seriously in Connecticut. Like most states, Connecticut has a mandated reporter statute, which requires certain professionals to notify the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) of suspected abuse or neglect cases. This often triggers an investigation by the agency. But there can be massive complications when there are special education issues involved. What is the Mandated Reporter Statute in Connecticut? According to Connecticut Statutes Section 17a-101, certain professionals are required to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect to the appropriate agency (DCF). The purpose of this law is to “protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected through injury and neglect; to strengthen the family and to make the home safe for children by enhancing the parental capacity for good child care; to provide a temporary or permanent nurturing and safe environment for children when necessary…” The statute provides a long list of mandated reporters. Among them are physicians, nurses, social workers, paid childcare workers, and school employees, just to name a few. If any of these professionals have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect, they are required to file a verbal report with DCF within 12 hours and a written report within 48 hours. How Special Education Issues Can Complicate DCF Cases While investigations by government agencies are supposed to be fair, recent studies show they can be incredibly biased and unfair, particularly when there are special education issues involved. A recent series written by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit organization, revealed many schools nationwide have misused their DCF reporting authority when children in the school make learning challenging or when parents don’t agree to special education services for their children. Children with learning challenges like ADHD or mood disorders may act out in the classroom. When the school wants one thing for the child, and the parents want something different, this can put the two parties at odds. Unfortunately, schools have the power to contact the state’s child welfare hotline to ask for an investigation.  

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How Can an Attorney Help Before and During My Substantiation Hearing?

If the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) has made a finding of substantiation against you, you have the right to appeal the finding through a substantiation hearing. To help you exercise this right and protect your best interests throughout the process, working with a skilled DCF family law attorney is strongly recommended. At The Christie Law Firm, LLC, we have years of experience and can represent you before and during the hearing process. Call us today to learn more. What Is a Substantiation Hearing? A substantiation hearing is an appeal following a finding of substantiation. A finding of substantiation is a decision issued by the DCF indicating that allegations of abuse or neglect have been substantiated. When the DCF receives a report of suspected abuse or neglect, it is required to open an investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, it will issue a notice of its findings. If a finding of substantiation is issued, the party in question has 30 days from receipt of the notice to file an appeal. During the substantiation hearing, a party can introduce new evidence and witnesses, as well as cross-examine witnesses. After the hearing is concluded, a notice of findings will be sent via mail. There is a process for further appealing the findings of the substantiation hearing if need be. The Role of an Attorney During the Substantiation Hearing Process If the DCF has issued a finding of substantiation and you want to appeal the process, it is strongly recommended that you exercise your right to legal counsel. The various ways in which an attorney will represent your interests and advocate for you include the following: File an appeal of a DCF substantiation decision. The first thing that your attorney will do is to help you understand your right to appeal and how the appeals process works. An appeal must be filed within 30 days of receipt of the notice of substantiation. An attorney will manage all of the filing documents on your behalf and ensure that you don’t miss the filing deadline. Question witnesses. As stated above, one of the rights of a person involved in a substantiation hearing is the right to question witnesses. Your attorney can prepare questions and manage the cross-examination process on your behalf. Questioning witnesses is one of the key elements of a substantiation hearing and is best managed by someone who is very experienced and understands how a hearing officer makes a decision. Review the evidence. The DCF will submit all of the evidence that it has against you. You have a right to review this evidence and prepare a response. What’s more, it’s important that you understand that the burden is on the DCF to prove a finding of neglect or abuse. Your attorney will review all of the DCF’s evidence and help you understand what it means for your case. Ensure that you do not breach the statute of limitations. If you breach the amount of time allocated under the law for filing an appeal (30 days), then your right to appeal is forfeited. One of the key roles of your attorney is to ensure that you do not breach the statute of limitations and that your right to appeal is protected. Understand the hearing officer’s decision. At the conclusion of the substantiation hearing, the hearing officer assigned to your case will issue a determination. Your attorney will explain the hearing officer’s decision to you and what it means for your case and your rights as a parent or guardian. Strategize your next steps. Finally, one of the most critical roles of an attorney is strategizing your next steps at each stage of the process, from when you first receive a substantiation letter to after the hearing officer’s notice of decision has been issued. In addition to the above, your attorney will explain your legal rights and what the DCF can and cannot do throughout the process. Your attorney will also explain to you your options and what you may be able to do to improve the outcome of your case. Is Working with an Attorney During a Substantiation Hearing Required? There is no requirement to work with an attorney during a substantiation hearing; however, doing so is strongly recommended and may have a positive impact on the outcome of your case. Call The Christie Law Firm, LLC Today At The Christie Law Firm, LLC, we understand the stress and fear following the receipt of a DCF notice of the finding of substantiation. To learn more about how our law firm can help and the experience of our DCF family law attorney, call us directly at (860) 461-7494, send us a message online, or visit our Hartford office in person.  

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Should You Sign Releases for DCF?

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is a government agency that is responsible for protecting children who are suspected of being abused or neglected. If DCF is investigating you for child abuse or neglect, they may ask you to sign releases so that they can access your medical records, your child’s school records, and other personal information. Do you have to sign the releases? It is not necessary for you to sign the releases. DCF will only have permission to access your personal information with your consent. However, it is important to keep in mind that not signing the releases may make the investigation process a little difficult for DCF. What are the risks of signing the releases? It is important to note that there are a few risks to consider before signing the releases. The information obtained by DCF may be used against you in a court case The information obtained may be released to others without your consent. The information obtained may be used for other purposes other than a DCF investigation such as marketing or research. What are the benefits of signing the releases? There are also some benefits to signing the releases. It will help DCF conclude their investigation faster. It may allow DCF to access information that will be helpful to the allegations against you. It may help DCF to make a more informed decision about your case. What should you do if you are asked to sign releases? If you are asked to sign releases, you should carefully consider the risks and benefits before making a decision. You should also talk to an attorney to get their advice. An attorney can help you understand your rights and options, and they can represent you in any legal proceedings that may arise. Here are some tips for talking to DCF about releases: Ask the DCF worker why they need the releases. Ask what information they will be accessing. Ask how the information will be used. Ask if you can limit the scope of the releases. Ask if you can review the releases before signing them. Talk to an attorney before signing any releases. Contact an Experienced Connecticut DCF Defense Attorney Signing releases for DCF is a decision that should not be taken lightly. There are both risks and benefits to consider, and you should talk to an attorney before making a decision. At the Christie Law Firm, our experienced Connecticut DCF attorney is dedicated to keeping families together and safeguarding the rights of parents and their children. Please call (860) 461-7494 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation.