The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services also known as DCFS, is the state agency in Illinois that looks into claims of child abuse or neglect. DCFS has a statewide hotline (1-800-252-2873) that people call to report possible child abuse or neglect. Anyone can call the hotline. Doctors, teachers, child care workers, and anyone else who works with children are legally required to call if they think a child is being abused or neglected.
When someone calls the DCFS hotline, the hotline worker who answers the call asks the caller a series of questions about the incident. The hotline worker also gathers information such as the child's name, address, and description of abuse. Using this description, the worker will decide whether or not to accept the report based on DCFS guidelines. If the hotline worker decides that the description of abuse reported by the caller meets the guidelines, the next step is a formal DCFS investigation.
A DCFS investigation is not a criminal investigation. But DCFS and the police often investigate the same claims. This means they will talk and work together. Anything a parent says to DCFS can be used against him or her by the police.
DCFS has 60 days to complete a formal investigation. Formal investigations are used to:
- Figure out if there is enough evidence that the child was abused or neglected
- Decide if the child is in danger in the home
When a formal investigation begins, DCFS assigns a Child Protection Investigator to look into the case. Within 24 hours of the first report to the hotline, the investigator will try to visit the child to make sure there is no immediate threat to the child’s safety.
After the first visit, the investigator will gather evidence by interviewing many different people, including:
- The person who called the hotline
- The person accused of abusing or neglecting the child
- The child, if needed
- The child's doctors or teachers
- The child's family members
- Any other person who may have information about the claims in the report
The investigator will also visit the child’s home and other places where the abuse or neglect may have happened. The investigator will decide if the child’s home is safe. They do this by following the Child Endangerment and Risk Assessment Protocol or CERAP. If the child’s home is found to be unsafe at any point during the investigation, the investigator may ask a parent to agree to a safety plan. If the investigator thinks that a safety plan would not help at any point during the investigation, they can immediately remove the child from the home. This is called taking protective custody.
Manual for responding to investigations
Domestic Violence and DCFS toolkit for advocates
The FDC also offers a Toolkit for domestic violence advocates. The purpose of the Toolkit is to equip domestic violence service providers with the knowledge, strategies and tools to effectively advocate on behalf of and empower clients to achieve safety and stability for children and families during DCFS investigations related to domestic violence.