The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigate reports of child abuse and neglect. Anyone can call DCFS and make a report. Often, parents are the ones reported, although DCFS will investigate reports against anyone who lives in the child’s home, or those who work with or around the child, such as teachers or daycare workers.
Not all DCFS reports go as far as the police or a criminal case in court. However, they have the potential to get that far. So in most cases, talking to an attorney early on is a good idea. The consequences can be serious. We find that often DCFS is unorganized and their investigators don’t always play by the rules. Getting ahead of the game by having an attorney intervene can potentially solve lots of problems.
A DCFS report can lead to a criminal investigation and criminal charges against you, it can result in a judge at juvenile court granting custody to someone else and even terminating your parental rights. DCFS can instead decide to allow the children to stay in your home but require that you follow a particular plan. DCFS also has the option of keeping your case out of court if you agree to place your child or children with someone else. The outcome in each case depends on the facts and the result of the investigation. A DCFS report can also prevent you from working at certain jobs.
While any member of the general public can report abuse or neglect, certain categories of individuals are obligated to make a report – childcare providers, teachers, doctors, law enforcement officers, social workers, etc. These “mandated reporters” must call DCFS if they have reasonable cause to suspect neglect or abuse. Basically, it’s against the law for any of these individuals to look the other way. In many cases, the parent or individual who is the target of the investigation will not be able to find out who reported them.
It is illegal for someone to knowingly make a false report of child abuse or neglect. This can happen in child custody cases when one parent is trying to discredit the other parent. A false report can result in jail time and fines.
After someone calls to report abuse or neglect, DCFS determines whether there is enough information to make a formal report, and if so they begin an investigation. During an investigation, they talk to the person who made the initial report, the person accused, family members, and others who may have additional information. It’s up to DCFS whether to involve the police at this point.
If DCFS believes, after an investigation, that a child has been abused or neglected, then the report is entered into a Central Registry. This is called an “indicated” report. If a report against you becomes “indicated,” you can appeal. An appeal allows you to review the results of the investigation, although you may not learn the name of the person who initially made the report. An appeal in this situation is an administrative hearing with an administrative law judge; it is not a court case. You have 60 days to request a hearing. There will be a pre-hearing conference, where the judge will talk to the parties about evidence and what witnesses will be called, as well as whether the child will testify. At the actual hearing, the administrative law judge hears the case and makes a recommendation to the Director of DCFS. The final decision is up to the director. You can appeal this decision in court.
If the report is determined to be “unfounded,” rather than “indicated,” all records of the report and investigation can be destroyed by DCFS.
Not many attorneys focus their practice on DCFS defense. The truth is, not many people who are investigated can afford an attorney, so they go without. However, there are some good attorneys in Illinois who are very familiar with DCFS rules and procedures. This is key. As you can see from the process described above, DCFS has considerable authority to make life-altering decisions about you, your children, your ability to work, and even your future as a parent. An experienced attorney can make a difference in many cases.
If you want to speak with an attorney, or you are worried you can’t afford an attorney but want to talk about your options, please contact us for a confidential consultation and possibly a recommendation of an independent law firm that can help you.