ARE DCF HOME VISITS ALWAYS REQUIRED?
When protective services are in place, DCF invariably asks to have home visits. This means that a DCF social worker visits the family, normally twice a month. The worker asks questions, looks around, and may ask to speak to the children. Sometimes the worker has forms for the parents to sign; although of course you should sign nothing until your lawyer has reviewed it. Sometimes the worker brings another person along to speak to you. You should be cautious about speaking to other persons, as this may be a disguised mental health intake interview, for which your lawyer should first prepare you.
Home visits are also generally used when a petition has been filed, and the case is pending (i.e., no adjudication of neglect yet, and no disposition of protective supervision). Home visits are also the normal rule in DCF open cases, i.e., an investigation is underway, but no petition has yet been filed.
Home visits are often desirable, and in some cases speed up the process of making DCF go away. They also avoid the problem of making you go to the DCF office to see the worker.
Sometimes, however, home visits are intrusive. Parents may prefer that the visits occur at DCF, or even in a neutral setting such as McDonald’s. (It is interesting that McDonald’s has become the de facto child visitation capital of the U.S.)
The question, then, is whether or not DCF home visits are mandatory.
We believe that they are not.
Home visits are part of DCF’s procedures, and they are listed on a preprinted form called “Specific Steps.” That does not mean that they must be automatically granted. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a similar provision in the Connecticut Constitution, give people security in their homes. In plain English, the police cannot enter your home unless there are emergency circumstances, or unless they have a warrant supported by probable cause.
DCF is not a police force. Therefore, DCF maintains that it is not subject to the Fourth Amendment. However, the Pennsylvania appellate court recently ruled that DCF (or its Pennsylvania equivalent) is a State agency, and that it is not exempt from the Fourth Amendment. The court even referred to the social workers’ “exaggerated view of their powers.”
In other words, if you have a valid reason for not wanting DCF to do home visits, and if DCF does not have probable cause, then you must ask your lawyer to file a motion opposing home visits on Fourth Amendment grounds.
In a recent Connecticut case, DCF was requesting home visits. The parents disagreed, and we showed the Assistant Attorney General our motion to contest the request on Fourth Amendment grounds. DCF backed down, apparently not willing to risk a Constitutional challenge.
In summary, home visits are often a good idea. But if they are not, and if DCF has no probable cause, then do not feel that you must automatically give in. The Constitution is superior to DCF’s regulations.
 Appeal of RG and SG, 875 A. 2d 365 (2005). It was apparently this case that alerted DCF to ask the Connecticut Attorney General if it had to abide by the Fourth Amendment. So far as I know, the Attorney General declined to respond.