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June 20, 2011

Parental Rights Legislation Enacted

At the conclusion of the 2011 legislative session, Connecticut strengthened the rights of parents undergoing social services investigations by enacting House Bill 6312. Signed into law by Governor Dannel P. Malloy on July 8, 2011, this legislation requires the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, at the time of any initial face-to-face contact with a child’s parent or guardian, to provide that person with written notice “in plain language” that:

  1. The parent or guardian is not required to permit the representative of the department to enter the residence of the parent or guardian;
  2. The parent or guardian is not required to speak with the representative of the department at that time;
  3. The parent or guardian is entitled to seek the representation of an attorney and to have an attorney present when the parent or guardian is questioned by a representative of the department;
  4. Any statement made by the parent, guardian or other family member may be used against the parent or guardian in an administrative or court proceeding;
  5. The representative of the department is not an attorney and cannot provide legal advice to the parent or guardian;
  6. The parent or guardian is not required to sign any document presented by the representative of the department, including, but not limited to, a release of claims or a service agreement, and is entitled to have an attorney review such document before agreeing to sign the document; and
  7. A failure of the parent or guardian to communicate with a representative of the department may have serious consequences, which may include the department’s filing of a petition for the removal of the child from the home of the parent or guardian, and therefore it is in the parent’s or guardian’s best interest to either speak with the representative of the department or immediately seek the advice of a qualified attorney.

The last item of the notice to the parent should not be understood to mean that failure to communicate with a social worker is a basis for removal of a child from the home. There should be evidence of abuse or neglect before a court issues an order for further investigation, and the child should be in imminent risk of physical harm before the court issues an order of removal. What is most significant about this item in the new law is that the parent is given an opportunity to obtain legal advice before being expected to have any further communication with the social worker.

While the new law is a step in the right direction, it fails to comply with the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). This law requires states to adopt provisions and procedures to (1) require child protective services personnel at the initial time of contact to advise individuals subject to a child abuse and neglect investigation of the complaint or allegation made against them and (2) require child protective services workers to be trained in their duty to protect the statutory and constitutional rights of those they are investigating. Hopefully, the enactment of HB 6312 is an indication that the Connecticut General Assembly is inclined to pass future legislation that will bring the state into compliance with federal law.

The new law goes into effect on October 1, 2011.