If you’ve ever received a letter from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) you’ve likely wondered to yourself, why is this happening, what do I do now, and what effect is this going to have. Sherer Law Offices is here to answer your questions and try to provide you with some clarity during a tumultuous time.
DCFS investigations usually begin with someone making a call to the abuse and neglect hotline.  The person who answers the call will then decide whether the reporter makes sufficient allegations to warrant an investigation. Further, the hotline operator must determine what category of investigation to open, an abuse investigation or neglect investigation. However, in some circumstances, sufficient allegations are set forth to investigate claims of both abuse and neglect concurrently.
Once sufficient allegations of abuse and neglect are reported, the next step is for DCFS to open a formal investigation to determine the veracity of the allegations. The hotline will make a call to the local DCFS office to assign the case to a mandate worker as well as a primary investigator. The mandate working must attempt to see the child within 24 hours of the hotline call. However, they are not always successful in securing a meeting with the child and will be forgiven for such as long as a good faith effort is put forth. The primary investigator will then likely want to meet with the child, talk to the parents and other witnesses, and observe the place where the incident occurred. After any such meetings or interviews occur, the DCFS investigator will make written records of all their investigations and upload these records to the file. In addition to the mandate worker and primary investigator, each investigator also has a supervisor who develops the investigation strategy.
These investigations are supposed to be completed with 60 days. However, the deadline will be extended if the investigator can show good cause for such an extension. Typically, this just requires the investigator to request an extension with their supervisor and the supervisor must approve the request. Many times, investigations are extended if the department is waiting on police reports or having difficulty reaching an important witness.
By the end of the investigation DCFS will come to either one of three conclusions: unfounded, which means there was no credible evidence to support the allegations of abuse or neglect; indicated, which means evidence was found to support the allegations of abuse or neglect; and indicated to an unknown perpetrator, which means that DCFS believes the child was abused or neglected in some way but does know who committed the offense. After a determination is made the person under investigation will receive written notification of the final decision.
If the investigation results in an indicated finding, you then have 60 days to file an appeal.  Once DCFS is informed you are appealing their decision you will be given a copy of their file and allowed a chance to prepare yourself for the hearing. During that hearing you will appear before what is known as an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to plead your case and explain why the investigator was incorrect in their findings. The ALJ will then make a written report within 15 days of the hearing, and 90 days of when the appeal was first filed. This report must recommend a decision on whether enough evidence was present to support an indicated finding and why the ALJ came to such a decision. The recommendation will then go to the director of the DCFS, who is free to either adopt it, reject it, or modify it. The director’s decision will mark the official close of the administrative appeal process. If the ALJ recommends that there was not enough evidence to make an indicated finding and the director adopts that decision, the report can be expunged from the DCFS register.
If after the appeal process an indicated finding is affirmed, DCFS will keep your name in a database called the State Central Register (SCR).  It’s possible for a person’s name to remain on this list for 5, 20, or 50 years depending on the circumstances surrounding the case. While the SCR is not available to the public, if you apply for a job working with children or adults with disabilities, an employer can see any information from the SCR that relate to you. Further, these indicated reports can be used against you in future claims of abuse or neglect.
For more information of DCFS investigations or appeals contact Sherer Law Offices at (618) 692-6656.
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