Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

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Protecting the Children: A School Administrator's Guide to Child Welfare Services in Illinois

Who Reports?

More than 65 percent of all child abuse/neglect reports are made by doctors, teachers and others mandated by law to report suspected cases.

child abuse hotline

The DCFS Child Abuse Hotline averages  nearly a thousand  phone calls every 24 hours.
Child Protection

Child Protection

The Department of Children and Family Services is best known for its child protection services. The goal of the Department's child protection program is outlined in the state's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act:

"The Department of Children and Family Services shall, upon receiving reports made under this Act, protect the best interest of the child, offer protective services in order to prevent any further harm to the child and to other children in the family, stabilize the home environment and preserve family life whenever possible."

The Child Abuse Hotline

Child abuse is the mistreatment of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caretaker, someone living in their home or someone who works with or around children. The

mistreatment must cause injury or put the child at risk of physical injury. Child abuse can be physical (such as burns or broken bones), sexual (such as fondling or incest), or emotional. Neglect happens when a parent or responsible caretaker fails to provide adequate supervision, food, clothing, shelter or other basics for a child.

The Department's protective services most often begin with a report of abuse or neglect made to the Child Abuse Hotline (800) 25-ABUSE. The Hotline is located at the Department’s State Central Register in Springfield. Anyone may report suspected child abuse or neglect. However, state law mandates that workers in certain professions must make reports if they have reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect. A majority of reports  are initiated by calls from mandated reporters.

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Mandated Reporters

Mandated reporters include physicians, psychiatrists, surgeons, residents, interns, dentists, dental hygienists, medical examiners, pathologists, pathologists, osteopaths, coroners, Christian Science practitioners, chiropractors, podiatrists, registered and licensed practical nurses, emergency medical technicians,

hospital administrators and other personnel involved in the examination, care or treatment of patients, teachers, school personnel, educational advocates assigned to a child pursuant to the School Code, truant officers, directors and staff assistants of day care centers and nursery schools, child care workers, truant officers, probation officers, law enforcement officers, and field personnel of the Departments of Children and Family Services, Public Health, Public Aid, Human Services (acting as successor to the Departmentof Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities,Rehabilitation Services, or Public Aid), Corrections, and Human Rights.    This also includes supervisors and administrators of general assistance under the Illinois Public Aid Code. Other mandated reporters include social workers, social service administrators, substance abuse treatment personnel, domestic violence program personnel, crisis line or hotline personnel, foster parents, homemakers, recreational program or facility personnel, registered psychologists and assistants working under the direct supervision of a psychologist.

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Child welfare workers who staff the Child Abuse

Hotline have special training in determining what constitutes child abuse and neglect under Illinois law. If a formal report is taken, a Child Protection Services worker will begin an investigation within 24 hours -- much sooner if the child is considered to be in immediate risk of harm. More than 99 percent of all reports taken during Fiscal Year 2000  had investigations opened within the 24-hour mandate.

After an initial contact with an alleged child victim and the reporting source, an investigator is sometimes able to determine that the report was not made in good faith or that the reported situation did not occur. If so, the investigation may be concluded at that point. But if the investigator is not able to make such a determination, a formal investigation begins.

Appropriate emergency services can be provided while the investigation is pending. These may include various kinds of family support or, if the child is at imminent risk, taking the child into protective custody. Some 5,076 children were taken into protective custody during Fiscal Year 2000.

Investigators also play a greater role in the comprehensive assessment of children in care, which involves both initial assessments that take place early in the investigative process and later comprehensive assessments. Special attention is given to risk assessments.

Once an investigator has collected information from the people involved, a decision must be made by the investigator. By law, the decision must be made within 60 days, but usually the decision is announced within 30 days. The investigator can make one of two findings: a report can be "unfounded" when there is no credible evidence that the child was abused or neglected or a report can be "indicated" when there is credible evidence that child was abused or neglected. Credible evidence means that the facts gathered by the investigator would lead a reasonable person to believe that a child has been abused or neglected.

Approximately 32 percent of all reports are "indicated" or confirmed after investigations are completed. Of the 103,743 child reports taken in Fiscal Year 2000, 32,553 were indicated as victims of abuse or neglect. Indicated reports of child abuse or neglect are kept by the Department for a minimum of five years. Indicated reports of death or sexual penetration are kept for 50 years, while reports involving serious physical injury are kept for 20 years. Unfounded reports are retained for a shorter period of time varying from 30 days to one year.

The number of children reported to the state's Child Abuse Hotline nearly doubled between Fiscal Years 1986 and 1995. In Fiscal Year 1986, 70,425 children were reported to the Hotline as abused or neglected.  The highest number recorded was in Fiscal Year 1995, with 139,712 children reported abused or neglected. The number of reports taken since that time has gradually declined to a low of 103,743 child reports taken in Fiscal Year 2000. 

While the essential work of investigators remains the same, their roles and the organizational framework have changed. Reform goals and the demands of a growing number of cases have reshaped the way protective services are delivered. A greater emphasis is now placed on protection, accountability and serving the best interests of the child.

The past history of rising numbers of abused and neglected children in care, coupled with court-imposed caseload standards, prompted an evaluation of the approach to service delivery. After studying models and methods used by other states and conferring with staff and experts in the field, Director Jess Mcdonald determined that DCFS could best serve children and families by making child protection services a separate function with its own line of authority to the Director. The new division of child protection was established, headed by its own Deputy Director. Management was also enhanced by the addition of child protection managers.

Children in Cook County who are taken into protective custody receive initial intake and placement services at a central location. DCFS operated the Emergency Services Center until October 1993. In January 1994, the Department's Emergency Services Center was renamed the Emergency Reception Center, and all child care activities were turned over to Columbus-Maryville.

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The Court System

The Department has worked diligently to streamline the court system. In 1993, the Department joined with Court-Appointed

Special Advocates (CASA) programs throughout Illinois to help monitor the cases of DCFS wards in juvenile courts. CASA volunteer duties include interviewing children, foster parents and others to ensure that facts brought before the court are accurate. The volunteers also provide recommendations to the court, monitor compliance with court orders, facilitate communication between the court and social work agencies and bring to the court's attention changing circumstances that may affect court orders.

In 1994, the Department implemented a new "quick case assignment system" in the Cook County Juvenile Court. The system allows investigators to identify a follow-up team responsible for serving the case if temporary custody is granted.

The Department also took a series of steps in 1994 to reduce a chronic backlog of child abuse investigations in Cook County, including hiring additional investigators. The Department's automated Child Abuse/Neglect Tracking System (CANTS) implemented a new tracking system in August 1994 which helped to lower backlogged CANTS reports caused by delays in schedule notifications. A pre-court screening plan was implemented to help ensure that DCFS appeared in court.

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Another important protective function of the Department is the licensing and monitoring of foster and group homes, child care institutions, day care facilities and day care homes to ensure the safety of the children cared for in these facilities. In June 1999, there were 38,188 DCFS licensed facilities in the state.

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