In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services is the state agency that handles the investigation of child abuse and child neglect accusations. In situations where the DCFS worker assigned to the case believes that child abuse or neglect has occurred, a “founded” report will be produced. In some cases, such a founded report will result in a person being added to Illinois’ child abuse database, called the State Central Register, which can have significant negative consequences for that person. An appeal of the DCFS report is often the wise course of action to take under such circumstances.
As an attorney who has represented many clients in Illinois DCFS matters, I know that a great many improper reports are founded by DCFS. Sometimes, that is the result of an over-zealous DCFS worker who ignores evidence that is favorable to the accused person and gives too much weight to the allegations, while overlooking evidence that shows the allegations to be inconsistent. In other cases, I have seen what can only be explained as bad-faith action on the part of the Illinois DCFS workers. Indeed, there have been cases where courts in Illinois have found that DCFS has systematically acted quite improperly.
The Illinois DCFS appeal process begins with giving proper notice of the intent to appeal to DCFS. A telephone pre-hearing conference (PHC) is then held, where matters such as disclosure of evidence and scheduling are handled. In some cases, such as where there is a pending juvenile abuse/neglect case in the Illinois Juvenile court, or a pending criminal charge in the Illinois Circuit Court, or in others were the evidence is complex and takes longer than normal to gather and exchange, then sometimes there are multiple PHCs.
The appeal hearing itself takes place in a less-formal setting than a courtroom in many counties in Illinois. Often, this is done at the DCFS office for the county in which the abuse/neglect is alleged to have occurred. At the appeal hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will hear evidence from DCFS and from the person who is appealing. That evidence can take the form of witness testimony, documents, records, etc. It is that presentation of evidence and refuting of DCFS’s evidence that is the core part of the appeal process.
In the event that the DCFS appeal does not produce the result that is desired, then a further appeal can be taken to the Illinois Circuit Court. That appeal must by timely filed and served, as a delay in doing will forever bar the person from being able to further appeal.
The process of appealing an unfavorable Illinois DCFS report or placement on the State Central Register is one that can be rather involved, but is often worthwhile given the stakes.