If you have been reported to DCFS for the abuse or neglect of your child, you will most likely be facing a lengthy series of court hearings. The very first hearing you will be required to attend, after a DCFS investigator has determined who will be granted temporary protective custody, is called a shelter care hearing. A shelter care hearing is an emergency hearing at which a judge will determine whether allowing the child to remain at home will present a danger to the child, and whether or not DCFS should take protective custody for an extended amount of time. The following describe what you should expect at a shelter care hearing.
Evidence concerning abuse/neglect will be presented. At this point in the court proceedings, DCFS has been called and the household in question has been investigated. The child may or may not be currently residing at home with his/her parents. The shelter care hearing allows for any and all evidence concerning the safety of the child gathered by DCFS thus far to be presented to the judge. DCFS is obligated to work diligently to gather all available evidence, whether it be indicative of abuse/neglect or not. The purpose of such investigation is not to prosecute the parent, but to discover the truth and provide an accurate presentation of the evidence to the judge. The judge will then determine if there is probable cause to believe the allegations of abuse or neglect.
Safety of the child in the home will be determined. This determination should not be confused with the determination that happens at an adjudicatory hearing. During a shelter care hearing, a judge will declare whether the child is safe enough to remain at home pending further court proceedings (the adjudicatory hearing, in particular). The judge will make this decision based on the information he gathers from DCFS, the GAL/CASA, all attorneys involved in the case, and parent testimony. Child placement determined at a shelter care hearing is only temporary, and may be subject to change depending on several factors.
Reasonable efforts made by the parent to keep the child safe at home will be assessed. Following an investigation by DCFS, it is very possible for a parent to make significant efforts to improve the current living situation of the child. Examples of such efforts could include moving out of an abusive partner’s house, baby-proofing a house (placing electrical plug covers throughout the house, blocking stairways, installing baby gates, etc.), taking a child to the doctor and getting a prescription for his/her chronic asthma problem, or scheduling a dentist appointment to have his/her cavities filled. Many times abuse or neglect occurs because a parent does not have the time or money to adequately provide for the child. In this case, “reasonable efforts” can be made by taking advantage of the many government funded resources available for kids’ medical, physical, emotional, psychological, and educational needs. Showing a judge such reasonable efforts at a shelter care hearing is a necessity for any parent hoping to be awarded permanent custody of his/her child.
Being indicated by DCFS can be one of the most frightening experiences for any parent. However, a judge will always rule in the best interest of the child. For more information on what to do if you are being investigated by DCFS, please feel free to contact the Law Office of Bradley R. Tengler in Rockford, IL 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.