What to expect when the Department of Children and Family Services calls
This article provides an overview of DCFS investigations of your home and family.
The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services investigates situations in which the state believes a child is at risk. Usually, an investigation begins with a tip to the DCFS hotline, with the tipster alleging that a child is experiencing physical, emotional or mental abuse, or suffering from neglect.
If you are facing an investigation or just received a call from a Child Protective Investigator, the most important thing to remember is that you have the right to remain silent about your case and can speak to an attorney. Importantly, however, the DCFS does not need to tell you this, since it is not - at least yet - a criminal investigation. Note that if you do say something that could be taken as evidence of a crime, what you say can be used against you in a criminal prosecution later.
How an investigation begins
The person giving the tip to the DCFS does not need to have a special relationship or knowledge of your family. It can be anyone, including ex-romantic partners or a family member on bad terms with you, or may be part of an underhanded move in a custody battle.
The DCFS performs a follow-up investigation for about 25 percent of all calls they receive.
An investigation can also begin when a mandated reporter, such as a doctor, pediatrician, social worker, school counselor or child care worker informs the DCFS of suspected abuse or neglect. There are many mandated reporters in the state.
The DCFS will not release the name of the person who gave the tip. There is no way to confront your accuser in court.
What happens during the investigation
If it determines further investigation is warranted, the DCFS will contact you by phone or mail to set up an interview and home inspection. This investigation is to determine if the child's environment meets minimum state standards.
You should have an attorney present at any home inspection. You can conduct an interview with your attorney present and may be able to respond to questions through your attorney.
If an inspector arrives before setting up an interview and without a warrant, you do not need to let him or her in. If they do come with a valid, signed warrant, it is best to remain silent about your home life and your relationship with your family, even though it is tempting to try to defend yourself against the CPI and police. Just remember that the CPI and police officers are there to do a job, not be your friend or even look out for your overall family's well-being. The CPI just wants to determine if a child is at risk. Even mild and innocent remarks, such as admitting you occasionally argue as a family (like everyone) may be "evidence" your children are in danger.
Follow-up discussions and investigations may occur. At each time, you can, and should, have your own attorney present.
What DCFS findings can mean for you and your family
The DCFS does have the legal authority to remove children from a home of their legal parent or guardian if it determines that is in the child's best interests. This can include placing a child in foster care or the home of another relative. Fortunately, however, this does not happen in every case, and there are specific findings the DCFS must discover to justify removing a child from his or her current home.
The DCFS can also force you to take classes for anger management, substance abuse, counseling, or force you to abide by a "safety plan" in order to keep your family intact.
Get help with your situation. Each family's circumstance is unique.
Keep in mind that nothing in this article is specific legal advice for your situation, nor does it imply an attorney-client relationship. If you are facing an investigation, speak to a lawyer familiar with Illinois DCFS investigations as soon as possible to discuss your specific situation.