Clients often assume that in order for DCF to become involved in their life, a situation must arise warranting the Department’s intervention. Though this is often the case, DCF may also rely on the concept of “predictive neglect,” allowing it to intervene to prevent future harm.
Preventing Future Harm
As the Appellate Court explained in a relatively recent decision, “Our statutes clearly and explicitly recognize the state’s authority to act before harm occurs to protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected and not just children whose welfare has been affected… General Statutes 17a-101(a) provides:
The public policy of this state 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; and for these purposes to require the reporting of suspected child abuse, investigation of such reports by a social agency, and provision of services, where needed, to such child and family.” (Internal citations omitted) In re Ja-lyn, 132 Conn App. 314 (2011).
The Court further explained, “The doctrine of predictive neglect provides that “[t]he department, pursuant to Section 46b-120, need not wait until a child is actually harmed before intervening to protect that child… This statute clearly contemplates a situation where harm could occur but has not actually occurred.” (Internal citations omitted) Id.
In the case cited above, DCF filed a neglect petition and subsequently obtained an order of temporary custody just six days after the child was born. The trial court concluded that an adjudication of neglect was warranted because, among other things, the mother had a prior history with the department stemming from unresolved anger management issues.
The Court’s Decision
In so holding, the trial court relied at least in part on the testimony of a social worker who stated that the mother had a long history with the department; that she had unaddressed substance abuse and mental health issues; that her other child was already in the Department’s care; that she tested positive for marijuana at the time of the child’s birth; that she had anger management and parenting issues; that the child’s father was incarcerated when the child was born; and that there was a history of domestic violence between the mother and father.
After considering additional evidence supporting the aforementioned findings, and relying on the doctrine of predictive neglect, the Appellate Court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to uphold the trial court’s determination.
Should you have any questions regarding DCF proceedings, or family matters generally, please feel free to contact managing partner Joseph Maya for a free initial consultation. He can be reached in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.