In this article, we explain how to remove a child from the parent’s custody and how to report child abuse or neglect to the DCFS. We will answer the questions, "what is the DCFS?", "who is required to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the DCFS?", "what are the penalties for failing to report child abuse or neglect to the DCFS?", "what happens once a case of child abuse or neglect is reported to the DCFS?", "what happens during an investigation of child abuse or neglect?", "what happens if the Division of Child Protection" finds evidence of child abuse or neglect?", "what happens if a child abuse or neglect case goes to court?", and "can a non-parent initiate court proceedings to remove a child from a parent's custody?"
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is responsible for investigating reports of child abuse or neglect, working with families to implement plans to solve the root problems that cause abuse or neglect, and, if necessary, referring cases to the Illinois State’s Attorney’s office for the purpose of protecting the child.
The Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act lists several dozen types of people who come into contact with children and are required to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to the DCFS. Broadly speaking, if you are an educator, daycare worker, medical professional, psychologist, or counselor, you probably have an obligation to report to the DCFS.
If you are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the DCFS and you fail to do so, you may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If you fail to report multiple time, the penalty will be greater.
Whether you are a medical or educational professional who is required to report child abuse or neglect, a concerned family member, or simply an unrelated person concerned for the child’s well being, you can report suspected child abuse or neglect to the DCFS by calling the following toll-free hotline: 800-25-ABUSE. If you report a case the DCFS your name will be kept confidential and will not be revealed to the parents.
When the DCFS receives a report of child abuse or neglect, the first step is for a worker for the Division of Child Protection to make an initial investigation and initial determination as to whether the report is a good faith indication of alleged child abuse or neglect. The DCP worker will usually speak to the reporter and the alleged victim prior to making this determination. If the DCP determines that the report is a good faith indication of alleged child abuse or neglect, the DCP will initiate a formal investigation.
Once a formal investigation begins, the DCP is required to complete the investigation within 60 days unless it has good cause to extend this deadline. The DCP will generally interview the parent or guardian as well as any witnesses. If a parent or guardian refuses to cooperate with the DCP, the DCP is free to make inferences from the parent’s refusal to cooperate, and this may impact the investigation.
Once the formal investigation is complete, the investigator will classify the case as:
If the DCP classifies a case as “indicated,” the DCFS report will be kept in the state central register for at least five years. More serious reports are kept in the register for 50 years.
The DCFS will then decide whether to refer the case to the State’s Attorney or to work with the family to develop a voluntary “service plan” to attempt to preserve the family. Also known as a “safety plan,” this plan is intended to remove the root causes of abuse or neglect while avoiding removing the children from the parent’s custody. Elements of the plan may include substance abuse treatment, or counseling.
If the DCP investigator believes that court intervention is necessary to protect the child, or if the service plan is unsuccessful, the investigator will request that the State’s Attorney file a petition with the court.
Once a child abuse or neglect case goes to court, a temporary custody hearing will be held to determine whether the child should be removed from the custody of the parent or guardian during the pendency of the case. A protective order may be entered to ensure the child’s well being until a final determination in the case. Ultimately, a final hearing will be held at which the court will determine whether to remove the child from the parent’s custody. Whether the parent has cooperated with any protective orders will play a large factor in this decision.
While the most common way that concerned parties act to protect a child they believe to be abused or neglected is to report to the DCFS, any person may file a petition to initiate a case to determine wardship. In these cases, the State’s Attorney will proceed with the case as if a request for petition had been submitted by the DCFS.