Child Protection Cases in Court: What to Expect
Child Protection Case Timeline in Illinois
DAY 1: Protective Custody (PC)
Emergency removal of child from the home by DCFS to protect the child's safety.
Within 48 Hours of the Child's Removal from the Home
(Excluding weekends & holidays)
Temporary Custody (TC) Hearing
The court decides if there is probable cause, urgent and immediate necessity, and if the 'best interest of the minor' requires the court to place the child in the custody of DCFS.
Extended Temporary Custody Hearing
A meeting is held among parents, attorneys, and caseworkers, to discuss alternatives to removal, services, visitation, and placement.
If no, the child goes home, the petition is dismissed & court case is closed.
Within 55 Days of Temporary Custody
Court Family Conference (Cook County only)
Parents, caseworkers, attorneys, and the judge discuss the case plan, the parents' progress to date, how the children are doing, and what must be done before the child can be returned home.
Within 90-120 Days of Temporary Custody
Adjudicatory Hearing (Trial)
The Court decides whether the child was abused, neglected, or dependent.
If no, the child goes home and the court case is closed.
Within 120-150 Days of Temporary Custody
Dispositional Hearing (Dispo)
The Court decides whether the child can safely be returned home with or without further supervision by the court.
If the court finds that the child can safely be returned home without supervision, the child goes home and the case is closed. This is rare.
If yes, the Child is made a ward of the court and is returned home under Court Order:
Generally, Court supervision is required and an Order of Protection (OP) is entered. Progress Reports are made to the court as necessary, until the case is closed. If the requirements of the OP are violated, the child could be removed from the home.
If no, the Child is made a ward of the court and is placed under DCFS Guardianship:
Child remains in foster care. 12 months after TC, the first permancy hearing is held before the judge. There are permanency hearings every 6 months from then on, until the case is closed.
Types of Court Hearings and What to Expect
The court will set a goal (sometimes referred to as 'permanency goal' or 'court set goal') for your case, and re-determine it at various points as your case progresses. The goal will show you and your child the direction in which the case is moving. The court set goal will also determine what services will be provided to you. If the goal is not for your child to return to live with you, DCFS will no longer offer you services to get your child back.
The judge will conduct the first permanency hearing within 12 months of the date that your child was put into temporary custody (TC). After that, a judge will conduct a permanency planning hearing on your case every six months. The judge will do two things at permanency hearings:
- Set a permanency goal; the goal set by the judge is not what will happen on that day, but it is the goal that those involved in the case will be working toward in the near future.
- Decide whether you and your child are receiving the correct services.
Temporary Custody Hearing: At the Temporary Custody (TC) Hearing, also known as the Shelter Care Hearing, the judge decides if a child can live safely with a parent, or if it is necessary for a child to be removed from the home for awhile. The judge's decision will be based on what is necessary for the safety of the child. At the Temporary Custody Hearing the judge will decide one of three things:
- The judge may decide that there is no reason to believe that the child is unsafe at home. The judge will allow the child to go home with you and there is no need for you to come back to court.
- The judge may decide that although there is a problem, that the child will be safe at home if you agree to certain rules. In this case, the judge will issue an Order of Protection. This is a court order that lists certain rules that must be followed for the child to remain safe with the parent.
- If the judge believes you cannot protect your child or your child is not safe living with you, the judge will "take temporary custody" — that is, remove your child from your care and have him/her live with someone else for awhile. When your child is removed from your care, custody is usually given to DCFS and the judge names the DCFS Guardianship Administrator as the child's temporary custodian. The judge will actually say the name of the person who is the Guardianship Administrator for DCFS. That person will not be in court. No children actually live with the Guardianship Administrator. DCFS will place the child with an available family or agency that can care for the child. DCFS will try to have a child live with a relative, (including godparent) whenever possible. Be sure to tell your caseworker if you (or the childís other parent) have relatives who you believe could take good care of your child. If you have a relative who could take good care of your child, try to bring him/her to court with you.
Status Hearing: The status hearing happens after the Tempo- rary Custody Hearing and before the trial. At this hearing, the court makes sure that both parents know about the trial date, and the caseworker gives a written report about you and your family to the judge. This report is called a social investigation.
The Court Family Conference: For cases in Cook County, a Court Family Conference will be held approximately 55 days after the Temporary Custody Hearing. The date for this conference will be set by the judge at the end of the Temporary Custody Hearing. This conference is 'off the record' -- no court reporter will be there -- and it is considered to be a fairly infor- mal process. The Court Family Conference is held to help you understand what the court expects of you and helps you to learn about what must be done before your child may return to live with you and your court case can be closed. The conference also helps the court to learn about you and your child. In addition, the Court Family Conference is a good time for you to make sure everyone is aware of your childís particular needs. For example, if your child has asthma, make sure that everyone is aware of it. The Court Family Conference will be attended by you, your lawyer, your caseworker, the judge, and the other lawyers working on the case. Everyone will talk frankly about the problems that caused your child's case to come into this court, and what progress you have made in solving these problems. If you like, you can have a friend or relative attend the Conference with you.
Adjudication (Trial): The trial is also called Adjudication or the Adjudicatory Hearing. It happens about three months after the Temporary Custody Hearing. This is when the judge listens to evidence about your case to decide if your child was abused, neglected, or dependent at the time the cast first came into court. At this hearing the court can only receive information about the reasons that the case came into court in the first place. The judge cannot hear anything at this time about efforts that you have made to correct problems since the case came into court. Witnesses will tell what they know about the facts of the case involving your child.
Your lawyer can ask questions of witnesses. Your lawyer also can have you and any other persons you wish tell the court what you know about the facts of the case. After all the witnesses have been heard, the judge will decide if your child is abused, neglected, or dependent. If the judge decides that your child is not abused, neglected or dependent, the judge will return your child home. If the judge decides your child is abused, neglected, or dependent, the judge will set a date for a Dispositional Hearing (Dispo). The Dispositional Hearing may occur on the same day as the trial, but usually it is held later in order for the judge and all of the attorneys to get a report about you and your children, your progress in services, and your needs for additional services.
Dispositional Hearing (Dispo.): At the Dispositional Hearing, your caseworker tells the judge about your progress. He/she also tells the judge about your child's needs. The Dispositional Hearing will happen within about 30 days after the trial, unless the lawyers and the judge agree to a later date for a good reason. The judge must decide if each parent is unwilling, unable, or unfit to care for his or her child at this time. The judge must also decide if it is in your child's best interests to stay in foster care or to return home to you. If the judge decides your child should stay in foster care for now, the judge will name someone as the child's guardian. This is usually DCFS. When this happens, the DCFS Guardianship Administrator is named in court as the guardian. That does not mean that your child will have to move. The Guardianship Administrator is a DCFS official, and not someone with whom your child will live. At the end of the Dispositional Hearing, the judge will set the next court date.
At this point, it is important for you to have worked with your caseworker to make the needed changes so that you can safely care for your child. In order for your child to be returned to you, you must show you can protect and care for your child. The court may also consider your visitation history with your child, as well as assessments by the agency of your visits with your child.
Motion for Return Home: Once a child has been taken into temporary custody and placed in foster care, the child can only return home to live with his/her parents with permission from the court. You may ask the court to consider returning your child to you as soon as you are able to prove to the court that you can provide adequate care and a safe home for your child. This can occur at any time. Generally, it does not happen before the Dispositional Hearing, but it is possible. From the time your child is removed from your custody, you can and should be working toward having your child returned to you.
In order for the court to consider a child's return home, a court hearing must be held to determine whether the conditions leading to the child's removal from the home have been corrected. This hearing requires that witnesses tell the court about your situation. Your caseworker might tell the court what you have done to correct the problems and why it is in your child's best interest to return home. Usually before returning home, a child has progressively longer unsupervised visits with his/her parents, including overnight and weekend visits at home. Once a child is returned home, the family will have to report to the court and follow the rules ordered by the court for a period of time. When you believe you have done everything that was required in order to have your child /children returned home, talk to:
YOUR CASEWORKER: to find out weather your caseworker agrees that you have done everything required and can support you in court to have your child/children returned home.
YOUR LAWYER: to find out what letters, certificates, or other documents your lawyer needs you to get and when he/she plans to file a motion for the court to hear about your child/children returning home.
Remember that this can be a very slow process. Everyone, including you, needs to feel certain that return home is not only best for your child/children, but that your child/children will be safe at home.
Permanency Hearing: As mentioned above, if your child has not been returned to your care within one year, a court hearing will be held to decide on a permanency goal for your child.
Possible permanency goals are:
Return Home: Being able to safely return to the parent/s is almost always the preferred permanency option for any foster child. Children are returned home by the juvenile court when the parent/s have corrected the conditions that led to the child being removed. DCFS must provide services for at least six months following the return home to help stabilize the family.
Variations on the goal of return home:
- The child will be returned home bt a specified date within five months.
- The minor will be in short term care with a goal to be returned home within a year, where progress of the parent/s is substantial, giving particular consideration to the age and individual needs of the child.
- The child will be in short term care with a goal to return home pending a status hearing. When the court finds that a parent has not made reasonable efforts or reasonable progress to date, the court shall identify what actions the parent and DCFS must take in order to justify a finding of no reasonable efforts or reasonable progress and will set a status hearing to be held no sooner than 9 months and no later than 11 months from the date of adjudication, at which time the parentís progress will again be reviewed.
Substitute Care Pending Court Determination on Termination of Parental Rights: The court is being asked to determine if it is appropriate to free your child for adoption by terminating your parental rights.
Substitute Care Pending Independence: A minor over the age of 15 may be in substitute care pending independence. This means that your child will live somewhere other than home, such as a foster home or group home, until he or she is able to live independently.
Adoption: If a child is unable to return to the parent/s, adoption should be considered as the next best permanency option. Adoption gives a child a lifelong family relationship. Adoptive parents are the legal parents of a child, with the same rights and responsibilities as if the child had been born to them.
Private (Subsidized) Guardianship: Permanent legal guardians, unlike adoptive parents, are not the child's legal parents. The court appoints legal guardians so that they have legal authority to provide day-to-day care for the child, and make important decisions in the child's life without DCFS being involved in the care, supervision, or custody of the child. Guardianship lasts until the child is 18 years old. Usually, as a parent, you have the continued right to visits/contact with your child when the child has a legal guardian. You also have the ability, in the future, to petition the court to have the guardianship vacated (dismissed) and custody returned to you. To succeed in this, you would need to convince the Court that you are fit, willing and able to care for your child, and that it's in your child's best interests to be returned to your custody.
Home Environment Not Appropriate: The minor will be in specialized/institutional care because he/she cannot be provided for in a home environment (either your home or a traditional foster or relative home) due to developmental disabilities, medical complexi- ties, mental illness or because he/she is a danger to themselves or others and the goals of return home and adoption have been ruled out. This goal is only given to a few children in very special circumstances.
Termination of Parental Rights Hearing: If your parental rights are terminated, the legal relationship between you and your child will end. When both parents' rights have been terminated, a child is available for adoption. Under certain conditions, the Assistant State's Attorney can begin court action to terminate your parental rights. This cannot happen in secret or be a surprise to you and your attorney. Keep in mind that you have to keep in touch with your caseworker and lawyer. Your caseworker will tell you if things are not going well and termination of parental rights is being considered in your case. Your parental rights can be terminated by the state without your agreement in Juvenile Court. If you are opposed to your parental rights being terminated, a lawyer will represent you in an effort to keep the state from terminating your parental rights. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the judge will appoint one to represent you. If you agree that it is best for you to no longer parent your child, you should consider consenting to your child's adoption or private guardianship.
In a termination hearing the court must decide two things:
- Whether the parents are unfit (the 'fitness hearing'): There are many reasons that the court can find you to be an unfit parent and terminate your parental rights; it does not mean that you are a bad person. For example, you can be found unfit because 9 months have passed since your trial and although you have been offered help, you have not done the things required by your Service Plan. You can be found unfit as defined by legal expectations because you have not shown enough interest in your child over the past year. If the court finds that you are unfit to parent your child, then the court will determine if it is in the best interest of your child to terminate your parental rights.
- Whether it is in the child's/children's best interest to terminate parental rights (the 'best interest hearing'): If the court finds at the fitness hearing that you are unfit as a parent, the court will also hear evidence whether it is in the best interests of your child for your rights to be terminated. In most cases where a parent has been found to be unfit, the court will also agree that it is in the child's best interests for your rights to be terminated. In other cases, however, you may be able to show that it is not in the best interest of your child. For example, you may be able to provide strong evidence to the court that you have a close, loving and positive relationship with your child.
If the court terminates your parental rights, your child will be free for adoption. The legal relationship between you and your child will end, and you will no longer be entitled to make any decisions about your child or, in general, to visit your child. DCFS will be responsible for your child, and can determine where your child will live and who will be permitted to adopt your child.
Note: This information was prepared as a public service by the Illinois State Bar Association. Every effort has been made to provide accurate information at the time of publication. For the most current information, please consult your lawyer. If you need a lawyer and do not have one, visit our lawyer referral page.
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