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How are DCFS and the court involved in CINC cases?
Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)
DCFS is the State agency responsible for receiving and investigating reports of child abuse and neglect; securing services and supports to protect children and prevent them from being removed from their home; initiating court proceedings to remove children from their home if necessary to keep them safe; providing foster care when the court finds it is necessary to protect a child; and, providing services and supports to the family so that the child can return home or, if necessary, placing the child in another safe and permanent home.
Custody of the Child
When someone contacts DCFS to report abuse or neglect of a child, an investigation to determine the report’s validity begins, along with an assessment of family functioning, safety, and risk. If it is determined that the child cannot remain safely in his/her home, the court will decide whether the child will be placed in the provisional custody of a suitable relative or individual/fictive kin or the State through DCFS. If the court places the child in the custody of DCFS, DCFS will choose a suitable relative or individual/fictive kin, a certified foster parent, or a suitable licensed facility to care for the child until the case is resolved or dismissed by the court or law. Per DCFS Policy 6-305, DCFS partners with parents to identify and locate relatives within 10 days, and no later than 30 days, from the child’s entry into foster care and on an on-going basis as other relatives are identified.
For a child to remain in DCFS custody (i.e., foster care), court hearings must be held and a judge must determine if the child is a “Child in Need of Care.” These grounds can be found in Louisiana Children’s Code Articles 603 and 606 but generally involve abuse or neglect. In such cases, DCFS and courts have the responsibility of assisting parents in addressing the safety issues that led to the removal of the child and reunifying the child with his/her parents or finding another permanent and safe home for the child if reunification is not possible. To ensure due process for parents and children, the law mandates the types of court hearings that must be held, their purposes, who can attend, and timeframes.
CINC cases are not heard before a jury but only before a judge. Information about the family is presented to the judge at the CINC hearings. Judges make the final decision as to whether a child will be removed from their parents’ custody or returned once they have been removed. If a child is removed from their parents’ custody, judges decide who to grant custody of the child to (i.e., DCFS, suitable relative or individual, etc.) and for how long. Judges are required to make very difficult decisions that can have a huge impact on the lives of children and families in these cases.