Reasonable Efforts to Preserve or Reunify Families and Achieve Permanency for Children - Florida

Date: September 2019

What Are Reasonable Efforts

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.521(1)(g)

The term 'reasonable efforts' means the exercise of reasonable diligence and care by the Department of Children and Families to provide the services ordered by the court or delineated in the case plan.

When Reasonable Efforts Are Required

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.521(1)(f), (g)

If the court finds that the prevention or reunification efforts by the department will allow the child to remain safely at home or be returned to the home safely, the court shall allow the child to remain in or return to the home after making a specific finding of fact that the reasons for removal have been remedied to the extent that the child's safety; well-being; and physical, mental, and emotional health will not be endangered.

If the court places the child in an out-of-home placement, the disposition order must include a written determination that the child cannot remain at home safely with an in-home safety plan and that removal of the child is necessary to protect the child. If the child is removed before the disposition hearing, the order also must include a written determination as to whether, after removal, the department made a reasonable effort to reunify the parent and child.

The court shall document whether reasonable efforts have been made through the following:

  • Written findings as to whether an in-home safety plan could have prevented removal
  • If an in-home safety plan was indicated, a brief written description of what appropriate and available safety management services were initiated
  • A statement as to why further efforts could or could not have prevented or shortened the separation of the parent and child

A court may find that the department made a reasonable effort to prevent the need for removal if the first contact of the department with the family occurs during an emergency, and the department's assessment of the home situation indicates an immediate danger to the child's safety that cannot be mitigated by the provision of safety management services.

When Reasonable Efforts Are NOT Required

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.521(1)(f); 39.806(1)

Reasonable efforts to reunify are not required if the court finds that any of the acts listed in § 39.806(1)(f)-(l) have occurred. These acts include the following:

  • The parent engaged in egregious conduct or had the opportunity to prevent and knowingly failed to prevent egregious conduct that threatened the child's life; safety; or physical, mental, or emotional health.
  • The parent has subjected the child or another child to aggravated child abuse, sexual battery, sexual abuse, or chronic abuse.
  • The parent has committed the murder, manslaughter, aiding or abetting the murder, or conspiracy or solicitation to murder the other parent or another child, or a felony battery that resulted in serious bodily injury to the child or to another child.
  • The parental rights of the parent to a sibling of the child have been terminated involuntarily.
  • The parent has a history of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of alcohol or a controlled substance that makes him or her incapable of caring for the child and has refused or failed to complete available treatment.
  • A newborn child had a positive test that indicated the presence of alcohol or a controlled substance, the presence of which was not the result of medical treatment to the mother or the newborn, and the mother is the birth mother of at least one other child who was found dependent due to exposure to a controlled substance or alcohol, after which the mother had the opportunity to participate in substance abuse treatment.
  • On three or more occasions, the child or another child of the parent has been placed in out-of-home care, and the conditions that led to the child's out-of-home placement were caused by the parent.

A reasonable effort by the department for reunification has been made if the appraisal of the home situation by the department indicates that the severity of the conditions of dependency is such that reunification efforts are inappropriate.