DCFS Investigations and Apeals
Receiving a call or written notice from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) telling you that you are under investigation for child abuse or neglect is life-changing. You and your child will be visited by an investigator and asked questions. You and your home will undergo a safety assessment, and your children may be taken from you and placed in the care of DCFS. You may face criminal prosecution and lose your job. When so much is at stake, you need the services of a family law attorney who will preserve your rights and help you through the investigative process.
The investigation begins when DCFS receives a phone call from someone who is reporting a suspicion of child abuse or neglect. State law requires those working in certain professions that deal with children to report to DCFS any good faith suspicion they may have that child abuse or neglect has occurred. They are known as mandatory reporters. If it is discovered that they had a suspicion and failed to report it, they may lose their jobs. All callers to DCFS who report their suspicions may remain anonymous.
Call screeners ask the callers certain questions in order to determine if further investigation is required. If so, within 24 hours of the report, an investigator is expected to visit the child. Within 48 hours, a safety evaluation is conducted which may result in your child being removed from your home while the investigation continues. Alternatively, it is possible that a safety plan may be established which places specific conditions on any interactions with the child. Some of the rights afforded to you during the investigation include:
- Being provided with written information detailing what the specific allegations are against you.
- Being informed as to when you allegedly harmed or neglected the child and what conduct you supposedly engaged in that caused the abuse or neglect.
- Presenting evidence to defend yourself and to disprove the allegations.
DCFS is supposed to complete its investigation within 60 days of the report, but the Department may get an extension if it can show good cause for needing more time. At the end of the investigation, it will issue a report with one of two outcomes. If the result is that the allegations are “unfounded,” it means no credible evidence was discovered to support the allegations.
Quick Tip: Pay attention to all deadlines. Once a deadline has expired, you have
forever waived your opportunity to challenge a DCFS finding.
If the result is “indicated,” it means the Department found credible evidence to support the allegations. Before it can make this determination, DCFS must assemble all evidence in the matter, including evidence that supports guilt as well as evidence of innocence. If the final report against you is “indicated,” DCFS may refer your case for criminal prosecution, and you may lose parental responsibilities and parenting time with your children. If you work with children or in the healthcare industry, you may also lose your job. You have the right to appeal an indicated finding.
Appeals of Indicated Reports
Your first appeal is to an administrative law judge. It is called an expungement hearing, and you are entitled to present all evidence, including testimony of witnesses, medical reports, photographs and other documents, to support your innocence. After the hearing, the judge will make a recommendation to the DCFS Director regarding whether to grant or deny your appeal. The DCFS Director then renders final decision in the matter. If your appeal is denied at this level, you may appeal to the Circuit Court in your jurisdiction.
Strict time limits apply for filing your appeal. If you miss a deadline, you forever lose your right to appeal. Although you can appeal a denial of expungement, DCFS cannot appeal if the expungement request is granted.
Contact Our Office
If you receive a phone call or written notice telling you that you are under investigation for child abuse or neglect, the risk of losing parental responsibilities and parenting time with your children either temporarily or permanently is high. You are entitled to have an attorney represent you at all stages of the investigation. For more information on this issue and other Illinois family law matters, contact Kathryn L. Harry & Associates at (877) 889-4515 as soon as possible.