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Protective Custody and the Juvenile Court System

juvenile court

Many parents involved in divorce and child custody matters will encounter claims of domestic violence. You may have been accused by the other parent of abusing your children. Or perhaps your children have disclosed to you that they have been abused by their other parent. Often, this results in one parent obtaining an order of protection. If one of the parents or the child disclose this abuse to any of mandated reporters that they may come in contact with on a regular basis - including police, teachers, doctors, child care providers, and domestic violence advocates - these accusations often result in child protection investigations by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). If DCFS believes that an emergency exists, they make take custody of your children.

However, clear rules exist as to when and how DCFS can take custody of your children, and the process that follows. If DCFS violates these rules, it can result in a judge ordering your children immediately returned, and can even constitute a civil rights violation - as one Brody Brandner, Ltd. client claimed in a recent filing in McHenry County Circuit Court. When your civil rights have been violated, you may be entitled to sue the government for civil relief in order to vindicate your rights.

Illinois DCFS Child Protection Investigations

Investigations into child abuse and neglect are handling by Child Protection Investigators (CPIs) from your local DCFS field office, often located in the same city as your county courthouse. The McHenry County field office is located in Woodstock, the Kane County office is in Elgin, the Lake County office is in Waukegan, and the Winnebago County office is in Rockford. CPIs are tasked with investigating accusations of child and abuse which are reported through the DCFS hotline. The CPI may interview the parents, the children, their teachers, law enforcement, doctors, or other individuals with relevant information. Certain state laws may require that the parents give the DCFS CPI access to the children. Your assigned CPI will either rule the claims of abuse or neglect as "indicated" or "unfounded" with approval from their supervisor.

However, in certain cases, DCFS may decide that it is necessary to take custody of the children while the investigation is pending. This requires their supervisor's approval. The CPI or other DCFS official will arrive at the children's location (their home, school, daycare provider, etc.), often with police present, and forcibly remove the children. This is often referred to as "protective custody" (or "P.C." for short), "temporary custody," or "shelter care." This is almost always followed immediately by DCFS filing a case against you in Circuit Court for juvenile abuse and neglect.

How Does Protective Custody Work?

The Illinois Juvenile Court Act authorized DCFS to take protective custody of children without first obtaining a court order or providing the parents any due process. There are certain criteria which must first be met. Among these requirements, DCFS must have evidence that the children have been abused and neglected, it must be a matter of immediate and urgent necessity for the safety and protection of the child to be taken into custody, DCFS must make reasonable to eliminate the need to remove the children (such as asking the parents to engage in a voluntary safety plan), and that custody is consistent with the health, safety and best interests of the children. DCFS must conclude that all of these criteria are met, in addition to other requirements contained within the Juvenile Court Act, to take custody of children.

Once custody is taken, the children will be temporarily placed with a foster family - typically an immediate family member in the nearby area. DCFS must then schedule a hearing with a judge within 2 days (excluding weekends or holidays). This hearing, often called a "shelter care hearing" or a "temporary custody hearing" is for a judge to take evidence and confirm that DCFS has met all of the requirements to take and keep custody of children. The parents must receive notice of this hearing, which will be the parents' opportunity to present arguments and evidence that DCFS is not authorized to keep custody of children. A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) will be appointed, who is a person that will act as an attorney and an advocate for the children, and is required to meet with the children. They will make an argument to the judge about what they believe to be in the children's best interests. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge may make any number of different rulings, including closing the case, ordering the children returned home, ordering the children released to one parent with certain restrictions and conditions, or ordering that the children remain in DCFS custody.

It is important that DCFS schedule this hearing on time when they take custody of children. Failure to comply with the required rules by DCFS can result in an order that the children be released, even if the judge believes that DCFS was correct to take custody or that the children are in danger. In certain cases, DCFS' violation of a parent's rights can constitute a civil rights violation which can be subject to a civil lawsuit.

Adjudication and Disposition

Regardless of whether the children are released or remain in DCFS custody, the judge will allow the case to proceed after the shelter care hearing. At that hearing, the parents will be served with a petition and summons. These are the documents that formally commence a legal case for juvenile abuse and neglect under the Juvenile Court Act. This court case will typically be prosecuted by the State's Attorney's Office, but may occasionally be handled directly by DCFS lawyers. After shelter care, the court will schedule an "adjudicatory hearing." This is the trial on the petition filed with the court. This hearing must typically occur within 90 days of the shelter care hearing. The state will have to prove that the children are abused and neglected. If they are unable to do so, the case ends. If it is proven that the children are abused or neglected, then the judge will order the parents to comply with DCFS or other services and will schedule a "dispositional hearing."

During this time, DCFS will prepare an assessment and service plan. This will state the Department's opinion on what steps the parents need to take in order to correct the conditions that brought them into juvenile court. Unless otherwise ordered by the court, parents of children who have been adjudicated as abused and neglected will be expected to comply in full with the service plan. The parents will have the opportunity to object to the particular services recommended and to make arguments regarding the service plan.

After the children have been adjudicated, the judge will conduct a dispositional hearing. The purpose of this hearing is for the judge to decide how to address and rectify the abuse and neglect the children have suffered. The judge will consider the service plan, what services have been completed, what services are outstanding, the health, safety, and best interests of the children, and other factors in making their decision. In particular, the judge must decide whether it is appropriate to make the children wards of the court. If the judge decides the children should not be made wards of the court, the case closes. If the children are made wards, the judge will review the service plan and either approve the plan or order changes to the plan, and will enter other orders necessary to force the parents to comply with the service plan. If there is not parent that is fit, willing, and able to care for, protect, train or discipline the minor, and that the health, safety, and best interest of the minor will be jeopardized if the child is placed with a parent, the court will order the child into a long-term placement while the case continues. Otherwise, the child my be placed with a parent, either with or without conditions and restrictions.

Last, the judge will set a permanency goal, which is the date the judge expects services to be completed and the case ready for closure.

Permanency and Case Closure

Most juvenile cases close at a permanency hearing. At the dispositional hearing, the judge will set a permanency goal date, often 5 months or 12 months. These permanency goals are not final and may be updated by the judge. The judge will also schedule a permanency hearing - the first of which must be scheduled within one year of DCFS taking custody of the children. Additional permanency hearings may be scheduled if the case is not ready for closure. At any time the judge decides that it is no longer appropriate for the children to be made wards of the court, the case will close. Most often, this occurs because one or both parents have fully complied with the service plan and there are no further services to be completed.

However, if parents are not cooperative, do not comply with services, do not make reasonable progress towards case closure, or otherwise does not do what the judge orders them to do, the case may close in a far worse way - termination of parental rights. Although rare, the ultimate penalty that a judge can impose for a parent who abuses or neglects their children and refuses to take corrective action is that the judge can terminate that parent's rights to their child.

Experienced Attorneys In McHenry County

It is incredibly important for parents to have effective representation in juvenile court. Cases can be lengthy. Parents can be deprived of the custody and care of their children for months or even years as a result of accusations of abuse and neglect. In the worst cases, parents can see their rights terminated entirely. Navigating the juvenile court system requires the assistance of attorneys who are competent and experienced in matters of child abuse and neglect.

The attorneys at Brody Brandner, Ltd. have the comprehensive legal knowledge and diverse skillset required to protect you and your loved ones from harm. Our firm is here to prioritize your unique goals by guiding your steps from start to finish in Illinois juvenile courts. Call (815) 374-7783 to learn how we can help you turn the page and start a fresh chapter.

Issues like juvenile abuse and neglect can be be complicated and are often unique to the individual case. Contact us online to discuss your case with a trusted family lawyer in Illinois.

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