An Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigation, an indicated finding, or an administrative appeal can require urgent action by you or your attorney. Your parental rights and your job may be affected if you do not act quickly. Please do not delay in scheduling an appointment to speak to an attorney.
What triggers a DCFS investigation?
An investigation begins when the Department of Children and Family Services receives a report that a child has been abused or neglected. Reports are often made by telephone using the Illinois statewide hotline phone number. Reports can also be made online by anyone using the DCFS Online Child Abuse Neglect Reporting tool. The identity of the reporter is protected as anonymous. Reports are sometimes made by mandated reporters, who are individuals in roles that are required to report suspected abuse, such as doctors, social workers, teachers, and others who work with children.
An investigation may or may not involve the police. Depending on what is alleged to have occurred, local law enforcement may conduct their own investigation at the same time that DCFS conducts their own investigation. Police are also mandated reporters.
An incident also does not need to directly physically involve a child in order to trigger an investigation by DCFS. A domestic violence incident involving adults that is witnessed by a child in the home is a common trigger of an investigation.
How do I know if I am being investigated?
You may be directly contacted by a DCFS employee by telephone or you may find signs that they are trying to reach you, such as a business card left in your door if they visited your home and you did not answer the door or were not home. They may mail a letter to your home notifying you that an investigation has been opened. You have the right to be notified via what is called a CANTS 8 Notice, which states the basis of the investigation and provides the name and contact information for the DCFS representative who is conducting the investigation.
DCFS caseworkers can also visit a child’s school or daycare and speak to the child without you present. You do not have the right to interfere with the investigation of DCFS.
It is very important that you schedule a consultation with an attorney as soon as you believe you have DCFS involvement in your family. Refusal to cooperate with DCFS can be used against you in court by DCFS and can lead to negative outcomes. You need an attorney who is experienced with DCFS to advise you and work with you to prevent further escalation of your situation.
A child safety assessment will be conducted during an investigation. If they decide that the child is at risk due to unsafe conditions or situations, DCFS may ask you to agree to a Safety Plan to fix those unsafe conditions for the child or children and the Safety Plan may involve placing the child with a family member or other trusted adult. The Safety Plan is a written document and you should receive a copy of it. You may be asked to sign a Safety Plan even if it does not feel like an agreement. You might feel as if you don’t have a choice in the agreement and that you must sign it. Safety Plans should be periodically reviewed.
In very serious situations, DCFS or another child protective welfare agencies may take what is called “protective custody” of the children. They have the power to remove the children from your home and care immediately. If this happens, DCFS must go to court within 48 hours, or if the 48 hours end on the weekend, then the following business day. It’s imperative that you attend this court proceeding even if you do not have an attorney to represent you.
An indicated finding in a DCFS investigation means that DCFS found credible evidence of abuse or neglect by a parent or caretaker of the child. Notice of an indicated finding is typically provided by mail or other written means.
You have the right to a copy of the investigative file, the right to an administrative appeal hearing, and a judicial review of the administrative appeal.
People who are indicated by DCFS will have their names listed in the State Central Register. A person’s name can stay in the SCR database for 5, 20, or 50 years depending on the allegation. This can affect current and future employment, especially for roles in education, childcare, healthcare, or other employment where people work with children. Your employment does not need to directly work with children in order to jeopardize your job if, for example, you are the building attendant at a school.
You have the right to appeal an indicated finding, but you only have a limited amount of time in which to file your administrative appeal. Be sure to open and read all mail that you receive from DCFS and note time limits for any action necessary.
If you feel that your indicated finding was without merit, you can file a Notice of Appeal in order to have your case reviewed. Sometimes, an administrative appeal finds that DCFS caseworkers acted improperly in conducting the investigation or that sufficient evidence of the abuse or neglect was not established. Your administrative appeal will be heard before an Administrative Law Judge.
If you lose an administrative appeal, you can request a judicial review through the Illinois Circuit Court, filing a lawsuit against the Department of Children and Family Services in order to have your case heard before a Circuit Court Judge.
If the investigation is unfounded, you will receive notice that the Department did not find credible evidence of abuse or neglect. Unfounded reports are kept on file with DCFS for a shorter time period, usually three years, and your name is not listed in the State Central Register. Unfounded reports can be used against you in the future to show a history of issues despite their unfounded outcome. Investigative records connected to unfounded DCFS cases are more difficult to obtain for individuals and for attorneys.
Do DCFS investigations show up on background checks?
As discussed above, indicated finding may result in your name being listed in the State Central Register (SCR) for 5, 20, or 50 years. Any employer or entity conducting a background check may have access to the information, particularly if you are applying for a job or currently employed in a role that involves children. People employed in childcare, education, healthcare, and more have lost their existing jobs or have been denied employment due to indicated findings from DCFS. You may also be ineligible to adopt or foster children in the future if you have an indicated finding on your record. It’s highly recommended that you consult with an attorney as soon as possible when you have DCFS involvement in your family or home.
Schedule DCFS Attorney Consultation
To schedule an appointment with Attorney Zachary Townsend to consult on your DCFS issue, please call or text us at (815) 200-8802 or reach out to us online to request an appointment.
During your consultation, we will go over the background of your situation and go over your goals to help you create a new path forward and protect your parental rights.