Department of Children and Families (DCF)


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Includes information on child welfare, caregivers’ guides, and more.

Extensive information from University of South Florida’s College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, Department of Child and Family Studies, in collaboration with DCF.  A resource guide  for child welfare professionals, parents, and others.

“This plan contains 12 strategies, 40 objectives, and over 150 agencies and organizations as partners to reduce child maltreatment, promote adoption, and to support adoptive families.”


Statutes and Regulations

Child Abuse and Neglect Investigations

Abuse is defined as “any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual abuse, injury, or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired,” including omissions.  Willful means “the intent to perform an action, not to the intent to achieve a result or to cause an injury.”  Any adult who is a caregiver of a child, “defined as a parent, legal custodian, an adult household member, or other person responsible for a child’s welfare,” can perpetrate abuse upon a child.

In Florida, child welfare concerns involving drugs and controlled substances are all considered allegations of child abuse rather than neglect.  “Exposure” of a child to alcohol or a controlled substance is a form of child abuse.  “Controlled substances” are defined as “prescription drugs not prescribed for the parent or not administered as prescribed and controlled substances as outlined in Schedule I or Schedule II of § 893.03,” which includes cannabis.  Exposing a child to a controlled substance is established by “evidence of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of a controlled substance or alcohol by a parent when the child is demonstrably adversely affected by such usage” or a drug test at birth of a newborn’s blood, urine, or meconium found to contain any amount of “alcohol or a controlled substance or metabolites” that are not due to “medical treatment administered to the mother or newborn infant.”  DCF’s definition of “substance abuse” means the use of “any psychoactive or mood-altering drug, including alcohol, in such a manner as to induce impairment resulting in dysfunctional social behavior.”  Additionally, drug use in the home may be considered to be “leaving a child without adult supervision or arrangement”, which is itself considered child abuse.

Giving a sick child medical marijuana is also child abuse in Florida.  It is specifically prohibited to intentionally give a child drugs or other substances which “substantially affect the child’s behavior, motor coordination, or judgment or that result in sickness or internal injury,” when these drugs are not prescribed (or not administered as prescribed), and are controlled substances in in Schedule I or Schedule II of  § 893.03.

Every resident of Florida is a mandated reporter.  All persons must report any knowledge or “reasonable cause to suspect” that a parent or guardian is perpetrating child abuse or neglect.  However, professional mandated reporters such as doctors, nurses, therapists, spiritual healers, teachers, social workers, daycare workers, police, and judges are the only ones required to give their names; all other Floridians may choose to make an anonymous report, which are screened the same way.  Both failure to report and false reporting are felonies in the third degree.  Reports are not taken on pregnant women and unborn children.

There is no privileged communication between any professional party and their patient or client regarding child abuse allegations, except those between an attorney and their client, and asserting privilege may not be used against an allegation of failure to report.

Reports are taken 24/7 on the statewide toll-free telephone number, fax, web-based chat, or web-based report.  The hotline determines whether the report meets any of DCF’s definitions for abuse or neglect, and if so, initiates an investigation.  An investigation is immediately initiated “regardless of the time of day or night” if it seems that “the immediate safety or well-being of a child is endangered, that the family may flee or the child will be unavailable for purposes of conducting a child protective investigation, or that the facts otherwise so warrant.”  Investigation of all other cases begins within 24 hours after the initial report is received by the hotline.  DCF must complete its investigation within 60 days of receiving the initial report.

Only “harm” or “threat of harm” must be found to substantiate an allegation.  Allegations are “substantiated” by certain maltreatments, including substance misuse, being “verified,” which means “a preponderance of the credible evidence results in a determination that the specific harm or threat of harm was the result of abuse, abandonment or neglect.”  A disposition of “not substantiated” means that there is “credible evidence,” but not a preponderance (more likely than not) to support specific harm or threat of harm.  “No indicators” is the outcome where there is no evidence of the allegation being true at all.

When services are offered by the department following an investigation, they must first be offered to the family on a voluntary basis, unless there are “high-risk factors that may impact the ability of the parents or legal custodians to exercise judgment,” which includes a history of substance abuse.  If a family refuses services, DCF may be obligated to take the child(ren) into protective custody and petition a court for dependency.

The department creating a case plan does not require a parent admit to abuse or neglect and is not “a consent to a finding of dependency.”  Where the child is still in the family home, or placed out of the home for no longer than 30 days, a case plan can be created by DCF entirely without the involvement of any court.  A case plan may include drug treatment, parenting classes, and other services.


Administrative Appeals and Records

Anyone named in a report may obtain their records no later than 30 days following the initial report.  These records are largely confidential, but DCF, law enforcement, and authorized recipients of central hotline information are permitted to release or publish that information as long as they act in “good faith.”

All reports and records of all cases made to DCF including initial contact are kept by the state’s central abuse hotline.  All reports and records “pertaining to a family or child” are kept by the department until the child who is the subject of the report turns 30, at which time DCF is allowed to destroy the records but may choose not to do so.  A parent may request that her family’s DCF record be expunged, but the decision to expunge is up to DCF.  DCF will not expunge the records of any family with an open case (voluntary or protective).

A person who is adversely affected by a DCF decision may request a hearing from the agency.  If there is a dispute regarding a material fact, the agency must hold an administrative hearing and issue a final order.  If the individual still disputes the final order, he or she may seek judicial review within 30 days under Florida’s Administrative Procedure Act (Chapter 120).


Juvenile Circuit Court Proceedings

Grounds for the termination of parental rights can include a parent with a “history of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of alcohol or a controlled substance” that renders him or her incapable of caring for the child, where the parent has refused or failed to complete available treatment for such use during a 3-year period.  Other grounds for termination of parental rights include a newborn’s drug test revealing “any amount of alcohol or a controlled substance or metabolites, the presence of which was not the result of medical treatment administered to the mother or the newborn infant,” where the mother has at least one other child adjudicated dependent after a finding of harm to the child’s health or welfare due to exposure to a controlled substance or alcohol, and where the mother “had the opportunity to participate in substance abuse treatment.”  A child who has been declared dependent by a court, on whom a case plan has been filed, who continues to be abused or neglected, or whose parent has breached or will not be able to comply with the case plan may also lead to termination of parental rights.   All of these circumstances must be proven by clear and convincing evidence in the juvenile division of the circuit court.

Once the court has terminated a parent’s rights, the parent may file an appeal in the appellate court, which is given priority.  The termination will be suspended until a decision on the appeal is made.

DCF may file a petition for dependency asking the court to adjudicate the allegations of child abuse or neglect.  At an adjudicatory hearing, the agency will present evidence regarding the investigation and the family’s participation in services and will ask the court to decide that the child is “dependent.”  Once a child has been declared dependent, this means  that the court may issue orders to decide matters of the child’s care and custody.  The parent or legal guardian must be served with a copy of the petition at least 72 hours prior to the hearing.  While the hearing is pending, the department may request an injunction where there is “reasonable cause” — that is, “if there is evidence of child abuse or if there is a reasonable likelihood of such abuse occurring based upon a recent overt act or failure to act.”   This type of injunction is similar to a restraining or abuse prevention order for domestic violence.  Conditions of an injunction, if issued, may include limited contact and/or drug treatment, among other orders.

After child abuse or neglect allegations have been proved in an adjudicatory hearing, or if the parents have consented to dependency or admitted the allegations, a disposition hearing is held.  This hearing can require the parent or other caregiver to participate in drug treatment or other services as part of a “case plan.”  It may or may not include removal of the child from the home.  These hearings must take place within 15 days of the adjudicatory hearing if the parent has admitted to the allegations and 30 days if they have not.

A parent in a judicial proceeding in the circuit court is entitled to an attorney only for termination of parental rights.  Counsel will be appointed for indigent parents.  This right may be waived by the parent.

  • Fla. Stat. § 39.510 — Appeal.

Anyone “who is affected by an order of the court, or the department” may appeal that order to the appellate court.  Legal counsel will be appointed by the court for the appeal.

A guardian ad litem, or GAL, is appointed as soon as possible to represent any child in an abuse or neglect judicial proceeding.  Where parents are financially able, they must pay for GAL services.

Given allegedly “increasing numbers of drug dependent children” born in Florida, there is special provision for fast-tracking court orders for relatives or other responsible adults to when parents voluntarily agree to family services or temporarily give up custody of their child due to their continued dependence on drugs.

Grandparents have visitation rights, including unsupervised.



 State Marijuana Laws

There are no progressive marijuana laws in Florida.

All Florida Laws & Penalties (NORML)


Last updated: April 27, 2014 at 19:01 pm


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