By Attorney Devon DeMarco
Imagine that you come home from work and are flipping through your mail. You see an envelope from DCFS, the Department of Children and Family Services. You think nothing of it and leave it in the pile along with other junk mail, assuming it is some type of request for a charitable donation. A few days later you open it and are shocked to see that the Department has “indicated” you for abuse or neglect of a child. Your name is now included on the Central State Register, a database of child abusers. You have 60 days to appeal.
Unfortunately, this situation can be possible. While DCFS is supposed to notify people suspected of abuse during an investigation, the Department doesn't always do so. Some people find themselves on the child abuse register without having any knowledge that they were being investigated for abuse or neglect in the first place.
Inclusion on the register can impact your eligibility for certain types of employment and can prevent you from participating in some activities, such as volunteering at your child's school. If you are indicated for abuse or neglect, it is important that you file an appeal in order to challenge the finding. If your appeal is successful, the finding of abuse or neglect will be “expunged” from the register, meaning it will be erased. The DCFS investigator needed only “credible evidence” in order to indicate you for abuse or neglect, however, at the appeal hearing the Department will need to demonstrate that there is a “preponderance of the evidence” that abuse or neglect occurred. Many people are able to win their appeals due to the higher standard of proof. An attorney will be able to look at the Department's investigative file and consider whether the evidence against you meets the legal definitions of abuse or neglect. If not, the finding against you should be expunged.
There are also a number of procedures the Department must follow during its investigation, as well as a number of specific deadlines the administrative hearings unit must meet during your appeal. If the Department fails to follow its own procedures or misses deadlines, you may have grounds to expunge the finding of abuse or neglect. It is important to raise these issues at the appeal hearing. An attorney well-versed in DCFS rules and regulations can spot these errors and will file the motions necessary to protect your rights during the appeal process.
Navigating the DCFS child abuse and neglect investigation and appeal process is complicated and emotionally distressing. CTM Legal Group has a number of attorneys who are ready to fight for you and your family. Call us today at 312-818-6700 to schedule a free consultation.