DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS PROCESS
Who is DCFS?
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is the Illinois government department that handles child protective services. It is assigned with the task of investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect in Illinois. DCFS has the duty to protect Illinois children from harm and abuse.
How Does DCFS Learn About Possible Abuse and Neglect Cases?
Many people are aware of DCFS and understand their purpose. When child abuse or neglect is suspected many people do report it to the DCFS phone hotline. They also have ways for people to report their suspicions online. DCFS wants citizens of our state to understand that we all, as a society, have a civic obligation to report possible child abuse and neglect. Many people are also what we refer to as “mandated reporters.” These are people that must report any and all suspected abuse and neglect. Typically we think of mandated reporters as teachers, doctors, police officers, etc. When the incident is reported to DCFS they initially determine if the allegation meets their guidelines and if it does then a formal investigation will be next.
What Happens If You are Suspected of Child Abuse or Neglect?
Once DCFS receives a report of possible abuse or neglect that meets their guidelines they must investigate formally. Then they must determine whether there is credible evidence that child abuse or neglect occurred or if the report is “unfounded.” A child protection investigator is involved in the investigation.
Within 24 Hours of First Report of Child Abuse or Neglect
Within 24 hours of the first report, the investigator tries to visit the child to make sure there is no immediate danger to the child. During their investigation, they will speak with witnesses and they will review any evidence. The Department usually tries to get parents to agree to a safety plan but if that would not help then the department could take the child into protective custody. This includes speaking to the person who allegedly abused or neglected a child, the person who reported the abuse, the child, doctors, family members, etc.
DCFS Investigation is Not a Criminal Investigation
An investigation by the department is not a criminal investigation. However, the department and the police often communicate during the investigation. DCFS has 60 days to complete their formal investigation. If after an investigation DCFS believes the report is unfounded, the report will be removed from the Child Abuse Registry.
What happens when you receive a notice that DCFS Intends to “Indicate” you?
After completion of the DCFS investigation of child abuse or neglect, you will receive notice if the department intends to “indicate” you. When DCFS “Indicates” you, it means they believe you were the person who abused or neglected the child. The indication notice will tell:
- you who the child is that the allegation is about,
- when the alleged incident occurred,
- what exactly DCFS believes you did, etc.
- how long the indicated report will stay in the system if they do indicate you.
DCFS Appeal Process
The notice will tell you more about the appeals process if you are indicated. They will also give you a summary of the facts that the department investigated during the process. You are given an opportunity to speak to an unbiased child protection administrator to respond to the allegations and they state they have to indicate you. Many people have their attorney present for the teleconference. This is a time to bring additional evidence and facts to the department’s attention. Remember that at this point you are just being given a chance to tell your own account of the incident. You are not able to cross-examine the department’s witnesses at this stage.
What Happens If You are “Indicated”?
After the teleconference, if you choose to participate and you do not have to, you will receive notification of whether or not you were indicated. This will be in writing from the department with their final decision. They will let you know the specific allegation you have been indicated for. If you are indicated this report of child abuse or neglect will be on the Child Abuse Registry. This can negatively impact your life, especially when it comes to any current employment or future employment opportunities with children. If you do not believe that you should have been indicated then there is an appeals process which allows you to challenge the final decision.
How Do You Challenge a Finding of Child Abuse of Neglect?
If there is a finding against you for child abuse or neglect, you must request to challenge that finding in writing by filing an appeal directly with DCFS to begin the process. You should then receive correspondence from the department acknowledging your appeal. The next step will be a telephone conference with an administrative law judge from the administrative hearings unit. This is a pre-hearing conference and if you do not participate your appeal will be dismissed and the indicated finding will stand.
Preparation for the Administrative Law Hearing
The next step is preparing for the hearing. You will exchange witness lists with the attorney for the department. You will receive a redacting copy of the investigation file to review while preparing. You may send subpoenas to make sure certain witnesses appear for your hearing. You are able to have a child under the age of fourteen (14) as a witness at the hearing but you must show that the child’s testimony or involvement is essential to determination of an issue that you are appealing, that this will not inflict emotional harm to the child, and that there is no alternative to having the child involved.
What to Expect During Administrative Law Hearing
At the hearing, you and the department will both present evidence and witnesses. This will be your time to ask questions to the department’s witnesses. The department has the burden of proof to show that the abuse of neglect occurred by a preponderance of the evidence.
What to Expect During Administrative Law Hearing
After the hearing, you will receive a final administrative decision on the appeal within ninety (90) days. If you are successful the report can be taken off the registry. Remember that indicated reports can be used against you later if there are future allegations of child abuse or neglect. If you are unsuccessful in your administrative appeal, you will be provided with information on how to appeal through the judicial system.
If you have concerns about a DCFS investigation or have concerns about child abuse or neglect, it is important to make smart decisions and seek advice from experienced family law attorneys. Contact our office today to schedule a confidential consultation to get answers to your questions including what happens if DCFS indicates you for child abuse or neglect.