DCFS Investigations and Appeals
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”) is the state agency responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. They are a separate and distinct entity from the police, the State’s Attorney’s Office, and other state and local law enforcement agencies. However, they often work hand-in-hand with those other agencies.
If the DCFS contacts your or you receive notice from them of suspected child abuse or neglect, you should immediately contact an attorney. If DCFS makes an indicated finding against you or your spouse, significant other, or household family member, it could have severe ramifications for you and your children, including the potential for a juvenile or criminal case against you, as well as the risk you may lose custody of your children. It can also affect your employment if you work in an industry related to healthcare or children. Understanding DCFS rules, the process, and your rights and responsibilities is essential for protecting yourself and your children.
When a DCFS investigation is initiated, the caseworker assigned to the matter will usually attempt interview all applicable parties, including the children, parents, other members of the household, medical providers, and anyone else with knowledge as to the incident in question. If the allegation is severe, the caseworker will likely notify the police or the State’s Attorney’s Office and they may initiate an investigation as well. Within 60 days of the initial report, the Department is required to conclude their investigation. Extensions to that deadline are rare, but possible if there is good cause. In most cases, the investigation is concluded much sooner than the 60 day time frame.
By law, DCFS is required to notify the accused parent in writing of their final determination, and whether their investigation resulted in an “indicated” finding or was “unfounded.” An “indicated” finding means that DCFS has concluded there is credible evidence that a child has been abused or neglected. If the case is “unfounded,” DCFS has concluded there was not enough evidence to conclude child abuse or neglect occurred. If you wish for the State to keep record of an “unfounded” report for purposes of documenting what you believe to be harassment or false allegations, you should be sure to do this within the time frame allotted to do so.
If you are “indicated” for child abuse and neglect, it is crucial for you to take immediate action. You have the right to request an administrative appeal of the finding. The request for an appeal must be properly made to the Department within 60 days of receiving the notification, or you will lose your right to appeal. You also have the right to a complete copy of the investigative report.
In an administrative appeal, the Administrative Law Judge holds a hearing in a conference room in which DCFS and the appellant present evidence and the testimony of witnesses with respect to their case. After the hearing, the Judge makes a recommendation to the Director of DCFS as to whether he or she believes abuse or neglect has been proven by a preponderance of evidence contained in the administrative record. The Director can then adopts, reject or modify the recommendation of the Judge. If the Director denies the request for an expungement, the next option is to appeal to the circuit court.
The process of a DCFS investigation can be scary and intimidating. If you have been contacted by DCFS regarding suspected child abuse or neglect, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. If you have been indicated by DCFS for child abuse or neglect, the experienced attorneys of Kollias & Giese, P.C. can prepare you for the appeal process to ensure your adequate representation.