Foster homes are vital support systems for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or temporarily removed from their families. Sadly, these homes do not always provide the love and attention that children need at this critical moment in their lives. When foster parents or agencies fail to live up to the immense amount of trust and responsibility vested in them, children can be hurt or killed. An experienced Chicago foster care abuse and neglect attorney can fight for the justice they deserve.
At Hale & Monico, we defend the rights of abused and neglected foster children. If you know about a foster child who is being hurt, we want to help.
Signs Of Foster Care Abuse And Neglect
Foster children are sometimes timid or unsure of whom they can trust, so they may not tell anyone about their suffering. That’s where a responsible adult steps in. Before you can know whether there’s a potential case against a foster parent or agency, it’s important to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect.
Abuse generally falls into one of three categories: physical, emotional, and sexual.
Physical abuse is usually not directly observed; instead, a responsible adult will notice signs of it in the appearance or demeanor of the child. This abuse may include striking, punching, beating, kicking, burning, choking, or otherwise intentionally inflicting harm on the child. Cuts, bruises, burns, black eyes, and other marks are indicators the child has been harmed. But a child may also suggest he or she has been abused in how they act around their abusers. If a child displays fear, crying, anger, or other unusual behaviors around a foster parent or other caregiver, it could be a red flag.
Emotional abuse includes deliberate attacks on a child’s self-esteem or self-confidence. It is usually exhibited by a pattern of behavior rather than isolated incidents, but the effect is the same: stunted emotional development or sense of self-worth. Foster parents who engage in constant belittling, intentional withdrawal of support or nurturing, threats of physical harm, or unwarranted and extreme criticism of a child are likely engaging in emotional abuse.
Sexual abuse is also disturbingly prevalent in foster care situations. In its most apparent and egregious form, it includes rape, sodomy, child molestation, and exposure to or involvement with child pornography. But sexual abuse can include less obvious types of behavior like discussing sexual activity with a child. The signs of sexual abuse include dirty or torn undergarments, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, inappropriate sexual knowledge or behavior, sexual contact with other children, and much more.
Neglect is the failure to provide for the basic needs of a foster child. Foster parents and other caregivers are responsible for the child’s physical, medical, educational, and emotional needs. Neglected children often lack food, proper hygiene, appropriate clothing, and attention to medical and dental issues. They tend to display chronic tardiness or truancy from school and are allowed to go unsupervised.
How The Foster Care System Should Work
Foster care should be a safe place for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or removed from their original homes. Placement of children is usually handled by the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS). DCFS placement is intended to be temporary, and the goal is to return the child to his or her original home, if possible. But in many cases, children stay with foster parents for months and even years. Unless and until a child is adopted, he or she remains the legal responsibility of DCFS. Private agencies may also help manage the placement process.
There are certain qualifications that foster parents must meet, including completion of a criminal background check and home assessment. Unfortunately, these regulations sometimes do not prevent abuse and neglect. If DCFS or a private placement agency knew or should have known that a foster parent was unqualified or presented a threat to the child, then the responsible officials could be held liable.
What To Do If You Suspect Abuse Or Neglect
Any of the above signs should alert a responsible adult to possible abuse or neglect. In the event a child appears to be in immediate danger or at risk of sexual or serious physical injury, it is imperative that law enforcement be alerted.
Beyond the immediate urgency of such a situation, responsible adults should report suspected abuse or neglect to the DCFS 24-hour child abuse hotline by calling 800-252-2873. Certain professionals, such as teachers, police officers, and health care providers, are considered mandatory reporters. That means they have a legal obligation to report such issues.
To the extent possible, and in consultation with an experienced foster care abuse and neglect attorney, you can start gathering evidence related to the abuse or neglect. Any evidence you gather may prove critical in documenting how the foster parent, caregiver, or agency failed their duties.
These steps will help remove the child from a dangerous or harmful environment. But further action is necessary to hold the foster parent, caregiver, or agency liable. That’s where an experienced foster care abuse and neglect attorney will prove invaluable.
What To Look For In An Attorney
A skilled foster care abuse and neglect attorney not only understands Illinois laws and regulations concerning the foster care system. Familiarity with the courts, the rules of evidence, and the rules of civil procedure are also essential to ensure the best possible outcome. The right attorney will also know how to take swift action to stop the abuse or neglect and preserve relevant evidence. It’s also imperative that all responsible parties are identified, investigated, and held accountable.
Hale & Monico is experienced with foster care abuse and neglect cases. We understand how to get the evidence necessary to establish liability and how to demand the compensation that foster children deserve. If a child is being harmed in the foster care system, give us a call to schedule a consultation.