The Dependency Division of the 11th Judicial Circuit consists of five Circuit Court Judges and one General Magistrate. The Court presides over abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment cases and its mission is to ensure the permanency, safety and well-being of children. The main hearings in a dependency case (shelter hearings, filing of petition, arraignment, trial, disposition, judicial review, and permanency hearing) are required to meet state and federal statutory guidelines. Child Protective Investigators (CPI) from The Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigate reported cases of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment. After investigation either a petition is filed with the court under Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes or the family is offered volunteer services and the case is not submitted for court supervision. If the minor is removed from the home, a shelter hearing must be heard within 24 hours of removal. At the time of the shelter hearing, an attorney(s) will be appointed if the parent(s) has the inability to obtain counsel. At the time of the shelter hearing, the judge will determine the placement, visitation, education, mental health, and medical needs for the child(ren).
In 1997 the Adoption and Safe Families Act was enacted to promote the timely adoption of children involved in the foster care system. State and federal mandatory timeframes must be strictly adhered to in order to achieve the mission of promoting safety, permanency and well-being of children. A case plan is presented for each case in the system which outlines what a parent must complete and the time frame in order to achieve reunification or permanent placement. Permanency goals of the court are generally reunification with rehabilitated parents, adoption if a petition for termination of parental rights has been filed, permanent guardianship, and APPLA (Another Permanent Planned Living Arrangement).