The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is the state’s child protective services agency. Its purpose is to protect abused and neglected children by removing them from unsafe environments. Unfortunately, this does not always occur. When the system fails, children can be seriously hurt or killed.
DCFS may be liable in the event a child for which it is responsible is injured or dies. The attorneys of Hale & Monico fight to hold DCFS accountable and demand the justice that children deserve.
Understanding Child Abuse And Neglect in the Child Protective Services Agency
Knowing what to look for in abuse cases is the first step to ensuring DCFS is doing its job, and holding it responsible when it does not. Because children are often scared or unsure who they can talk to, it’s usually up to a responsible adult to keep an eye out for potential signs of abuse. Child abuse takes many forms, but most of it falls into one of three categories: physical, emotional, and sexual.
Physical abuse involves a parent or other caregiver intentionally inflicting injury on a child. You should be aware of these common signs:
- Unexplained injuries such as cuts, bruises, broken bones, and burns
- Fading or healing injuries, such as cuts or bruises, that may indicate past abuse
- Injuries that do not match the explanations given by the parent or caregiver, or by the child
- The child is frightened or cowered in the presence of the parent or caregiver
- The child cries or is visibly upset when he or she is being returned to the parent or caregiver
- The parent or caregiver uses severe discipline on the child
Emotional abuse is harm done to a child’s emotional well-being or self-esteem. It usually involves patterns of conduct such as bullying, belittling, insults, mocking, rejecting, or isolating a child. Anything involving verbal, rather than physical, assault of a child can be considered emotional abuse. Signs include:
- Emotional immaturity, including inappropriate behavior, given the child’s age
- Decreased self-confidence or self-esteem
- Withdrawal from social situations
- Lack of interest in activities the child previously enjoyed
- Destructive or self-harming behavior, including suicidal thoughts or actions
Sexual abuse happens when a parent or other caregiver engages in sexual activity with, or exploitation of, a child. This behavior takes many different forms, including rape, molestation, sexual intercourse, and exposure to and involvement in child pornography. Look for these warning signs:
- Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behavior, given the child’s age
- Inappropriate sexual contact with other children
- Child pregnancy or the child having a sexually transmitted disease
- Stained, bloody, or ripped undergarments
- Pain, itching, or injury to the genitals
Neglect is the failure of a parent or other caregiver to meet the child’s basic needs. It may be indicated by:
- Poor hygiene
- Weight loss or malnutrition
- Wearing clothes that are the wrong size, dirty, torn, or not appropriate for the weather
- Excessive tardiness or absences from school
- Lack of parental supervision or involvement
- Lack of medical or dental attention
The Role Of DCFS
Abuse or neglect that is reported to DCFS – including statutorily mandated reporting by teachers, doctors, and others – is initially reviewed by the agency to determine whether it meets their guidelines. If so, the DCFS will open an investigation.
Although a DCFS investigation is not criminal in nature, the agency often works closely with law enforcement to find out what happened. DCFS investigations may last up to 60 days, during which time the agency will determine whether there is credible evidence that a parent or caregiver abused or neglected the child. The investigator assigned to the case should attempt to visit the child within the first 24 hours of a report to see if he or she is in immediate danger.
The investigator will interview numerous people including the person who reported the abuse or neglect, the parents and caregivers of the child, and the child him- or herself. Investigators follow a guideline known as the Child Endangerment and Risk Assessment Protocol (CERAP). This protocol helps investigators make decisions regarding the child’s safety and potential courses of action.
At the conclusion of the DCFS investigation, the agency may label the case “indicated.” This means the agency believes there is credible evidence that a parent or caretaker engaged in abuse or neglect. The agency will notify the parent or caregiver of the reason the case is marked indicated and will explain their appeal rights. On the other hand, the agency may mark the case “unfounded” if there’s no evidence of abuse or neglect.
Why DCFS Fails Some Children
There are a number of reasons that children entrusted to DCFS fall between the cracks. Although not every agency failure necessarily means negligence, the presence of any of these factors is a strong indicator of it:
- Investigators being overloaded with abuse and neglect cases
- Investigators not following CERAP and other protocols
- Unreasonable delays
- Failure of the DCFS reporting hotline to take action
- Lack of training
- Inadequate staffing
- Failure of investigators to communicate with each other or with law enforcement
- Not doing thorough investigations
- Closing abuse cases too quickly
- Falsifying records
How Hale & Monico Can Help
If either abuse or neglect is reported, DCFS has a duty to take appropriate action in a timely manner. The child protective services negligence attorneys of Hale & Monico understand the guidelines and procedures the agency must follow, and we know how to get to the bottom of a DCFS failure. We will review the actions taken by DCFS investigators in light of the evidence of abuse or neglect. If it’s clear that DCFS was negligent in carrying out its duties, we will go to work to defend the rights of the child.
Our goal in taking legal action is to ensure that no other child has to endure the unimaginable pain and suffering that results when DCFS fails to do its job. Call Hale & Monico today to find out how we can help.