The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is not supposed to take your child from you, unless it is the only way to keep your child safe. Before taking your child from the home, DCFS must try other ways to keep your child safe, such as creating a safety plan.
A safety plan should be in writing. It may involve you or your child staying with someone else while DCFS completes its investigation. You do not have to agree to a safety plan, but if you do not agree to a safety plan, DCFS may take protective custody of your child for 48 hours.
During this 48-hour period, DCFS may ask the county State’s Attorney to file court papers asking a judge to give DCFS temporary legal custody of your child, so it can place your child in foster care. If the State's Attorney denies the request to file court papers, or if a judge does not give DCFS temporary custody, DCFS must return your child after the 48 hours are over.
DCFS may ask you to take part in Intact Services. You may be asked to:
- Go to a parenting class
- Go to counseling
- Have a mental health evaluation
- Meet with a social worker
If you take part in intact services you may not be required to go to court and your child may not be placed in foster care.
Like safety plans, you do not have to agree to intact services. If DCFS asks to do an intact service that you feel is unnecessary, you have the right to appeal. Some parents see the benefits of intact services, so they ask for services that they think might help them. Most parents agree that intact services are much better than going to court.
Sometimes DCFS asks a parent to give someone else formal legal guardianship of the child. Before you agree or sign any legal documents, you should talk to a lawyer or a free legal aid service about the risks and benefits of legal guardianship.You shouldn’t rely on what DCFS workers tell you about legal guardianship.
It is important to know that even if parents agree to a safety plan, to intact services, or to give someone else legal guardianship of their child, DCFS can still get temporary legal custody and put the child in foster care.
If the State’s Attorney’s office doesn’t think there is enough proof to bring a case alleging abuse or neglect, it usually rejects DCFS’s request to file court papers. If DCFS agrees to file the court papers, you will be notified. When it is time for court, you will be appointed a lawyer if you can’t afford legal services. You should only discuss the situation with a lawyer that you hire or who is appointed to you. Anything you say to anyone else can be used against you in court, even though you have not been charged with a crime.
In some cases, the State's Attorney will also charge you with the crime of abusing or neglecting the child. If this happens, a lawyer will be appointed to represent you in the criminal case if you cannot afford one. Depending on where in Illinois you live, the same lawyer may be appointed to both cases. If you are charged with a crime, you should only discuss the situation with your lawyer. Anything you say to anyone else can be used against you in the DCFS case and the criminal case.