When the Department of Children and Families enters the life of a family member, it is often hard to know what to do. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others often want to have the child placed in their care but, for lots of different reasons, don’t act immediately. Sometimes they are afraid to get involved and possibly damage their relationship with the child’s parents. Sometimes they may believe that the child will be returned to the care of his or her parents shortly. At other times, relatives try to get involved but have difficulty getting a response from DCF. Still other times, DCF won’t approve of having the child placed with relatives who come forward. Time passes quickly and relatives learn that DCF is planning to terminate parental rights. By then, having the child placed in their care presents a number of challenges.
Whatever your situation, as a grandparent or other relative of a child in DCF custody, you must act quickly. The first and most important reason to act quickly is that multiple moves for children who have been abused or neglected has been shown to have a negative impact, especially on young children. Multiple moves can be detrimental to brain growth, mental development, and psychological adjustment. When relatives can be a resource for children, it is best for these placements to occur as early as possible after removal and for children to remain in the same home unless they can return to their parents. Secondly, grandparents and other relatives have rights but time limits apply. Grandparents and other relatives can intervene in juvenile court to ask the judge to give them custody. Because time is of the essence, though, Connecticut statutes that grant relatives the right to intervene and seek custody generally have 90 day time limits. While intervention may be possible after that, it is more difficult.
If you are a grandparent or other relative of a child in DCF care, it is important to learn about grandparents’ rights and relatives’ rights as early as possible after your relative has been taken by DCF. If a child you love has been taken into DCF custody, don’t wait to act. Contact a juvenile court attorney immediately and find out what you can do to help the child stay with family.