57 Kids and the Law The investigator must collect information regarding the allegations that led to the filing of the petition, as well as background material about the family. The court order appointing the investigator usually allows access to all medi- cal, psychiatric, clinical, educational, and social records concerning the family. Generally, the investigator will meet with individual family members, the Pe- titioner, and “collaterals.” These “collaterals” are sources that have informa- tion about the child or family; often they are school personnel, social service personnel, and health care providers. The investigator has access to all DCF records and frequently includes portions of those records in the report. The report should contain information that can be documented, as well as personal observations. The primary focus should be on the child and the cir- cumstances of the child’s current living situation. What happens to the investigator’s report? The original of the court investigator’s report is filed with the court and copies are made available to the attorneys. While the attorneys may review the report with their clients and allow their clients to read the report, no copies may be given to the parent or guardian or social worker without the court’s specific permission.The report almost always becomes part of the evidence in the trial. Many times this report will contain recommendations, including where the child should live, what services could benefit different family members, what services DCF should provide to family members, where and how often family visits should occur, etc. While these recommendations are not binding on the court or the parties, many times they are a starting place for negotiations be- tween the parties about what needs to be done to reunite the family. Do all Care and Protection cases go to trial? No. The attorneys may always continue to negotiate to see if the case can be resolved without going to trial. If a settlement is not reached and approved by the court, the law says that a trial must be held and a final judgment be entered within 15 to 18 months from the date the Petition was filed. (Most cases do not actually end in a trial and most cases are not resolved within 18 months.) Due to scheduling issues, particularly in some areas of the Commonwealth, many trials are not scheduled for more than two years. Care and Protection Cases 6