Episode VI: When the State Enters the Home

To recap our story, Charles and Donna found their young daughter with her boyfriend after curfew, and a yelling match ensued in front of the family home. When James, the boyfriend, called the police out of fear for an escalating situation, the officers who arrived on scene ended up taking James himself into custody for drugs they found in his vehicle. After the chaos subsides, Brianna runs away from the family home, incurring scratches on her face as she does so. In panic, not knowing where their daughter has gone, Donna and Charles call the police.

The police had already been out to the house once, and no one was in a very good mood when they returned. When they see the abrasions on Brianna’s face, they immediately assume that someone put them there, and mostly based on their prior interaction, they assume that someone is Charles, and they take him into custody. Will he now be condemned to a period of hard labor at the county jail and branded as a domestic batterer for the remainder of his life? Almost as soon as the squadcar pulls out of the driveway, a DCFS investigator arrives, so just as one bit of drama ends, another act begins.

During fiscal year 2017, the DCFS received almost 121,000 child abuse complaints and determined that about a third of these reports (29,775 to be exact) had some merit. That could mean that the agency thoroughly investigates all the reports it receives and only pursues the ones that are warranted by the facts, or it could mean that the agency ignores all but the most egregious complaints. Based on our experience, the former is probably true, as the DCFS nearly always takes a long look, although not necessarily a transparent one, into the allegations it receives.


Within 24 hours of a report, assuming the report fits the profile of abuse as determined by the agency, an investigator makes a home visit to ascertain whether the child is in any immediate physical danger. If the answer is yes, the child usually goes into protective custody straightaway; if the answer is no, a 60-day formal investigation begins.

During this investigation, the caseworker interviews the principals involved, along with any witnesses, and also inspects the house or other place where abuse allegedly occurred. Both initially and during the investigation, the caseworker uses the Child Endangerment and Risk Assessment Protocol to decide if the child is safe, and if the child is not safe, if the prescribed action plan is effective. The overall objectives are to determine if:

  • There is sufficient evidence that the child was abused, and
  • The child is safe in the home./li>

Many times, the caseworker uncovers evidence of abuse but also determines that the child is in no further danger. In these instances, the alleged abuser is “indicated,” which means the person’s name goes into a database and stays there for between three and 50 years. Only doctors, police officers, judges, state child licensing agencies, childcare workers, and a few other groups can access the State Central Register.

On the criminal side, prosecutors are aware than an investigation is underway and also know whether or not the defendant is indicated. However, the DCFS investigation has little to do with a domestic violence prosecution, as these cases are almost always aggressively prosecuted because no one wants to be known as the prosecutor or judge who did not pursue a case and a tragic event occurred thereafter.

What to do

The best approach in DCFS investigations is to be honest and upfront with the investigators, even if they are not always honest and upfront with you. Most all investigations include an action plan, and it is best to stick to its directives religiously, no matter how insulting or superfluous they may seem. If the state appears poised to take your child, they will usually place the child with a relative and give the parents a remedial plan to get the child back.

Reach Out to Tenacious Attorneys

A DCFS investigation often has serious consequences for both the family and the alleged abuser. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.

(image courtesy of Aaron Burden)

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