What Parents Can Do regarding DCFS
Anyone can contact the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to make a report if he or she suspects or has reason to believe a child is being abused or neglected. While most reports target the parent of the child, DCFS will investigate anyone who regularly interacts with the child, such as a teacher or daycare provider, as well as anyone who lives in the child's home. It is important to note that even though a DCFS report may not result in police involvement or a criminal case, it can. One of their reports can lead to criminal charges against you, loss of physical custody and even termination of your parental rights as well as prevent you from pursuing a certain line of work or job. So, it is strongly recommended that you speak with an attorney as early as possible.
In instances where criminal charges are not sought, DCFS may allow you to retain custody as long as you follow a certain plan. In other cases, they can keep your matter out of court as long as you agree to relinquish physical custody and place your child with someone else. Each case is different and depends on the facts and the investigation. As noted above, anyone can make a report to DCFS but there are certain individuals who must make a report if they have reason to believe or suspect neglect or abuse. These "mandated reporters" include childcare providers, teachers, doctors, law enforcement officers and social workers, for example.
The parent or person being investigated will not be able to find out who reported them in most cases. Sometimes, in child custody cases, one parent may try to make a false report against the other parent. It is illegal for an individual to knowingly make a false report of child abuse or neglect and it can result in jail time and fines. When a call is made to DCFS to report abuse or neglect and they decide there is enough information to make a formal report, it will then begin an investigation. During an investigation, an investigator interviews the initial caller as well as the accused and family members and anyone else who may have additional information. It is then up to the agency to decide whether to elevate the matter to the police.
After an investigation, if their finder of fact believes that a child has been abused or neglected, the report is entered into a Central Registry. This is called an "indicated" report. Once a report against you becomes "indicated," you can appeal it. This type of appeal is an administrative hearing with an administrative law judge, rather than a traditional court case. You have 60 days to request a hearing and at a pre-hearing conference, the judge will discuss the evidence and what witnesses will be called and if the child will testify. After the actual hearing, where the administrative law judge hears the case, the judge will make a recommendation to the Director of DCFS. The final decision is up to the director and you can appeal that decision in court.
Keep in mind that, through an appeal, you can review the results of the investigation, but you may still not learn the name of the person who initially made the report. If the report is not "indicated," but is instead "unfounded," then DCFS can destroy all records of the report and investigation. The area of DCFS defense is not an area of law that many attorneys practice. In reality, many people who are investigated cannot afford an attorney. However, having one can make a major difference in a process that may have huge implications on your life, your family, your work, etc. Illinois has some excellent attorneys who know and have experience with Children and Family Service rules and procedures for the state of Illinois.
Even if you are worried that you can't afford an attorney, we still strongly recommend that you speak to someone for a consultation at the very least and explore your options.
If you are being investigated by DCFS, please contact us for a Free What Parents Can do regarding DCFS Consultation.