DCFS Defense: Don’t Wait to Hire an Attorney

Are you being investigated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) or do you have reason to believe that DCFS will soon be knocking on your door? If so, don’t wait to engage an attorney who knows DCFS’s practices and the relevant laws. You must take this matter seriously and treat it with the utmost urgency. Your family might be at risk of separation or your professional license could be at stake.

An encounter with DCFS is one of the most dire, disruptive and draining situations that any family or childcare provider can face. Hiring a DCFS defense attorney as soon as possible can have a tremendous effect on the outcome of the investigation. Someone like Kent Dean with an unparalleled understanding of how this system works can help you to navigate this unique area of the law. He has saved countless people and children from unwarranted intrusion by DCFS. Kent Dean has represented people who were being investigated for abuse and/or neglect for reasons such as:

tickbox  misunderstanding in the emergency room or doctor’s office
tickbox  allegation of domestic violence
tickbox  allegation of parental drug or alcohol abuse
tickbox  failed adoption
tickbox  juvenile delinquency
tickbox  school discipline
tickbox  allegation of sexual misconduct

You Have the Right to a Lawyer

Remember that your relationship with your children and your right to work in your field is constitutionally protected. You have a fundamental right to an attorney who can advocate on behalf of you and your family. And, you should take advantage of this right early on in the process. Timely and informed intervention and/or advice from an attorney like Kent Dean who has been working in this unique field can help resolve the matter before serious harm is done to your family or career.

Fighting DCFS is a Highly Specialized Skill

Ask almost anyone in this field. Attorney Kent Dean is widely recognized as the go-to attorney on DCFS matters, and he is routinely referred DCFS cases from former clients, fellow attorneys and at times –DCFS staff have referred family members. As one of the few private attorneys regularly practicing in this field of law in Illinois, he understands exactly how to both communicate effectively with Illinois DCFS staff and how to establish strategic alliances to keep your family out of juvenile protection (DCFS) court. But, if you find your family in front of a judge, Kent Dean is the attorney you want. He knows what works. He keeps families together and saves careers.

Why Hire The Law Office of Kent Dean

tickbox  Winning track record of keeping families together.
tickbox  One of the only private attorneys in Illinois with the skills, experience, knowledge and contacts to work effectively in this specialized area.
tickbox  Unique blend of crisis management skills, social work experience and a thorough understanding of the law.
tickbox  Advocate for families who will work tirelessly to ensure your family emerges as emotionally intact as possible.

Law Office of Kent Dean Success Stories

Due to the often extremely personal nature of DCFS related matters and the obvious involvement of minors, it seems inappropriate to make even vague reference to one case or another. What I can say is that over the years I have had the great satisfaction of helping to keep children home with timely and strategic intervention when possible, or temporarily with family or a good approximation of “normal” for the children when necessary. In more dire matters, sometimes only after protracted legal wrangling and state involvement. I would not wish any of these on any family not already beyond repair.

I have seen the least of us and the respected professional, lambs and brutes alike all accused of the most horrible of crimes against children, sometimes against their own. There have been times I have been able to help innocent people get back a measure of their dignity by disproving the initial allegation and restoring their standing with the State.

Reputations and careers are built over years and lost in an instant. I say if you are facing the loss of either – fight it. For people who care for or live with children having “something on record in Springfield” is often far worse than even a criminal conviction.

Frequently Asked Questions

1)    I just got a call from someone who said there’s a DCFS investigation involving my child. Do I need a lawyer?

What really seems to count is the severity of the allegation. If there is an allegation of real physical abuse or sexual misconduct the investigator’s first move is often to request one parent leave the home “while we finish the investigation.” In other cases the investigator may say the children must stay with a relative such as grandparents, aunt or ex-spouse. Such a “temporary” arrangement can have profound effects on any family and slip into a permanent arrangement if not handled correctly.

Case law clearly indicates the investigator cannot compel you to agree to some sort of family separation without at least some probable cause. In many instances, expert advice can give a family more room to negotiate and in some cases, say no to a specific request.

To be fair, few interactions with DCFS result in children being formally placed in foster care. But if mishandled, what should be a simple inquiry can turn into a multi-year ordeal for a family. In some cases, parallel criminal concerns exist.

Even in cases where custody is not really the issue, a parent or caregiver could be “indicated” for abuse or neglect if the investigation goes badly.

2)    I received a letter from DCFS stating I’ve been indicated for abuse and neglect. I disagree with this. What do I do to get this off my record?

Having an “indication” on your record can impair your ability to work in your profession, especially if you work with children or in medicine. A more immediate concern is that an “indicated” report can be used as evidence in any subsequent proceeding regarding your child. In other words, if the matter continues or you have further contact with DCFS, the earlier indication can be a problem for you even if it is years in the past. Don’t give up your chance to contest the finding by waiting. Don’t assume it won’t make any difference in the future.

I recommend people go ahead and initiate the appeal as directed in the letter you received. It costs no more than a stamp to get it started. However, this is real litigation. On the date of the actual hearing DCFS will have an attorney presenting evidence, objecting to your evidence and arguing that the indication should remain on your record. The judge will be considering the evidence presented and whether it meets the statutory definitions of abuse or neglect under ANCRA.

3) I’m being investigated by DCFS. They are telling me that I have to agree to a “safety plan” where my child stays with another family member. If I don’t agree with this, they are saying they may take my child away. Can they do this?

Caselaw states that any “safety plan” must be agreed to. In other words, they cannot “take” your child without court approval. On the other hand, the investigators often request a safety plan followed by the threat to take your case to court if you do not “agree” to the proposed safety plan. Whether or not that threat is real or there are facts that could result in a court-enforced removal requires some serious analysis from an attorney who is familiar with child protection statutes. Making such threats to a parent has been compared to coercion akin to physical violence used to extract a confession. To secure an order from a child protection judge removing a child – by statute the state and DCFS must prove there is:

1) probable cause that the child has been a victim of or is at risk of abuse or neglect;

2) the risk is urgent and immediate and;

3) that there are no reasonable steps that could be taken to eliminate the identified risk.

Reasonable persons may disagree on the amount of evidence necessary for an order of “temporary custody” but suffice to say, the courts are so risk averse that they grant well over 90% of requests for custody here in Illinois. If you are faced with the possibility of a temporary custody hearing, you should seriously consider hiring an attorney who already knows your case before you go or you do anything that could push your matter into court.

4) I’m a foster parent and I’m not getting along with my worker. I am concerned they are going to remove this child. Do I have any rights to dispute decisions they make regarding the child in my care?

In rare cases, typically involving removal of a long-term foster child, foster parents may seek to be made parties in the underlying court case and ask the Judge for assistance.

In most cases addressing an issue with a supervisor is an appropriate first step. The Illinois child welfare system now largely consists of numerous private agencies administered and overseen by DCFS. There are few DCFS case workers anymore. So if you are not getting help or disagree with decisions by your agency, you can appeal to a Department employee with the authority to direct the agency to do something or stop doing something. Failing that there is a system for having a hearing before an administrative judge – somewhat similar to the indicated appeal process noted above.

Documenting your interactions and directions from your worker even before any problems arise is always advisable.