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DCFS and safety plans - how to avoid foster care and ensure your children stay in your home

Any situation in which DCFS is involved can be absolutely frightening for the family being investigated. The uncertainty of the future of one's child can be one the most stressful times in one's life. If your family is facing child abuse or neglect allegations, it is important to be advised on how you should handle an investigation by DCFS. Once a case enters the DCFS system, a case worker will launch an investigation often involving a "safety plan." A safety plan, part of Illinois' CERAC (Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol), is a temporary living arrangement designed to ensure absolute protection for a child during the investigation of abuse or neglect in a household. This arrangement typically requires the temporary separation of parent and child, which can be a nightmare for parents. The controversy surrounding safety plans lies in the fact that DCFS often will enforce a safety plan without a significant amount of evidence for abuse or neglect. Nevertheless, if urged to sign a safety plan, it is in the best interest of the parent to cooperate. The following provide a few reasons why cooperation is of utmost importance.

Follow the plan if you want your child back. The State of Illinois places child abuse/neglect cases at the top of the priority list. Because of this, DCFS has the right to enforce a safety plan even before evidence is gathered to either confirm or reject the allegations. While this may seem unjust to loving parents who wouldn't dream of intentionally hurting their child, keep in mind that the ultimate goal of DCFS is to ensure absolute protection for the child during the investigation in the event that the allegations are true--hence the sense of urgency.  While you may feel powerless as your parenting abilities are being challenged, your best hope of being quickly reunited with your child is to comply with the safety plan. Failure to do so can result in DCFS taking protective custody, in which case hiring an experienced DCFS attorney would be recommended.

Follow the plan to keep you out of the courtrooms. As a parent facing allegations of abuse or neglect, the last thing you want to do is to have your case taken to court. Lack of cooperation on the part of a parent is a bright red flag to a DCFS case worker. Failure to comply with the safety plan can result in opening a court case, which can mean alternate placement of your child, a lengthy trial process, or your child being placed into custody of DCFS. If you are asked to sign a safety plan, it is in your best interest to do so. Remember, cooperation with the system is the quickest and most efficient way to demonstrate your ability to be a fit parent and desire to be reunited with your child under normal circumstances.

Follow the plan to receive other services offered by DCFS. In the event that your family is asked to cooperate with a safety plan, it is also recommended that you take advantage of the many services offered by DCFS. These services include counseling, parenting classes, financial assistance programs, and many other services designed to strengthen and rehabilitate the family. Additionally, DCFS ensures that these services are made affordable, or even free of cost to those who could not otherwise afford them. Following a safety plan may seem difficult, and many parents may feel like their parental rights are being violated. However, it is always in the best interest of the family to cooperate with DCFS and accept the assistance being offered. For more information about services offered by DCFS, visit their website at http://www.state.il.us/dcfs/child/index.shtml.

If you are facing a situation involving DCFS and would like to speak with an experienced attorney regarding your options, please feel free to contact the Law Office of Bradley R. Tengler at 815-981-4859 for a free consultation. Please note, the above does not constitute legal advice. Please discuss your specific rights with an attorney in your own jurisdiction. 

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