Fewer things are more frightening than when the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) begins an investigation because of accusations that your child was abused or neglected.
You may feel that this investigation process is unclear and shrouded in mystery. However, parents have rights when the DCFS in Illinois comes knocking on their doors. If this has happened to you, know that you can reach out to Vantage Group Legal Services. We will put you in touch with a seasoned attorney who can help.
What Is DCFS?
The DCFS is the state agency charged with child protective services. DCFS investigates allegations of abuse or neglect and handles foster care services and adoptions. DCFS maintains a 24-hour hotline where anyone can call to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
What Does DCFS Investigate?
DCFS in Illinois investigates reports of child abuse or neglect, dependency cases, and the fitness and ongoing abilities of foster families and adoptive parents. If you are wondering about your rights with DCFS, you are most likely encountering an abuse, neglect, or dependency allegation.
Child abuse is defined as the mistreatment of a child by their parents, caretakers, or anyone who works with or around them. This mistreatment causes harm or puts the child at risk of physical harm. The definition of child neglect is the deprivation of a child’s basic needs like supervision, healthcare, food, and other physical, educational, social, emotional, or safety needs.
In a dependency case, a child doesn’t have the proper care of a legal guardian through no fault of a parent or legal guardian. For instance, a dependency case can arise if a child’s guardian is hospitalized for a mental or physical medical emergency. Dependency does not involve allegations of wrongdoing against the caregiver or parent.
How Does a DCFS Investigation Start?
Most DCFS investigations begin with someone calling the hotline to report a child’s suspected abuse or neglect. Anyone can call the hotline.
There are people whose jobs or licenses require them to report any suspected child abuse or neglect. These are “mandated reporters.” Doctors, therapists, teachers, social workers, and medical personnel are mandated reporters.
Although a DCFS investigation is not a criminal investigation, DCFS is a state agency. It is possible that the police and DCFS are simultaneously investigating the same allegations. If so, the agencies will share any information they receive throughout the course of their investigation.
The DCFS Investigation Process
After the hotline call, DCFS will assign an investigator who will try to see the child within 24 hours. The investigator will also want to interview the child’s parents or caregivers, speak with witnesses, and visit the scene of the alleged neglect or abuse.
The parent or caretaker has a right to refuse to let DCFS enter the home or speak with the child. However, refusing to let DCFS talk with your child does not mean that they won’t ever speak with your child. DCFS has the right to speak with your child at school or daycare, and they can also go to court for an order or warrant if necessary. Furthermore, the refusal to cooperate with DCFS can be used against you in court.
Conversely, if you allow them to speak with your child, you can have a trusted adult present while the child is interviewed. You can do the same if you agree to talk with DCFS. Interestingly, DCFS doesn’t record their interviews—so it’s possible that they might misconstrue statements or misremember information.
DCFS also conducts a child safety assessment. If the investigator believes the child is unsafe, they may ask the parent or guardian to agree to a safety plan. Sometimes, the safety plan requires you to agree to place your child with a relative or trusted adult until you remedy any unsafe conditions.
If DCFS believes that the child is in immediate danger, they have the power to remove the child immediately. This is a rare occurrence that is called taking protective custody of the child. If this happens to your child, you have the right to know why the investigator considers your child unsafe. You can also try to discuss alternatives with DCFS.
After taking protective custody, DCFS must go to court within 48 hours or the following business day if the 48 hours end on the weekend. They must give you notice of the court date. You should try to speak with a family law attorney and bring them with you to your court appearance. However, even if you do not have an attorney, you must attend the court date.
At the court hearing, you will want to present as much evidence as possible to show that the investigator made a mistake and should not have removed your child. Speak with an attorney as soon as possible to prepare properly for this hearing.
What Are a Parent’s Rights During a DCFS Investigation?
During investigations, parents have rights with the DCFS in Illinois. In addition to what’s discussed above, you have the right to a CANTS 8 Notice which states the basis of the investigation. This notice should give you the name and contact information of the investigator.
You have the right to consult with the attorney. You can and should speak with an attorney before speaking to DCFS or signing anything like a safety plan. You can also have the attorney speak with DCFS on your behalf.
DCFS is supposed to gather evidence to determine the veracity of the abuse or neglect allegations. This includes evidence of abuse and evidence proving your innocence. You have the right to provide DCFS with character witnesses and other evidence in your favor.
The End of the DCFS Investigation
DCFS must complete its investigation within 60 days. They will find that the allegations were either:
- Indicated—meaning that DFCS found some evidence of abuse or neglect against the parent or caretaker of the child; or
- Unfounded—meaning that DCFS did not find credible evidence of abuse or neglect.
DCFS must notify you of the findings in writing. If your case was indicated, they might offer intact family services, which is a form of social services. Speak with your attorney about whether to agree to intact family services. Normally, it is best to engage in these services. If you do not, DCFS may bring the case to court.
You also have the right to appeal an indicated report. You have 60 days to file your appeal. An attorney will be able to help you prepare your case for an appeal.
Contact an Experienced DCFS Defense Attorney
You do not have to face this scary situation by yourself. Vantage Group Legal Services has experienced in-network attorneys who can represent you and preserve your rights throughout a DCFS investigation. Contact us today for a no-pressure consultation and to learn more about our low-cost subscription services.