Mt. Vernon Register-News

January 22, 2013

How DCFS deals with reported child abuse

By RORYE O’CONNOR
rorye.oconnor@register-news.com

MT. VERNON — — Editor’s note:  This is the second story in a two-part series concerning child abuse in Illinois.

When someone reports suspected child abuse to the Department of Child and Family Services in Illinois, an investigation begins within 24 hours.

If the child is believed to be in imminent danger, the investigation could begin even sooner than that, said Dave Clarkin, spokesman for DCFS.

“We complete all investigations within 60 days,” he said. “We interview all people involved, including the alleged perpetrator, the victim, and family members who may have relevant information to the investigation.”

Clarkin said about 30 percent of suspected abuse cases reported through the DCFS hotline turn out to be abuse or neglect, but even if the investigation shows no indication of abuse or neglect, DCFS works to provide the family with resources such as affordable childcare or other services they may need.

“We provide those services even if the report was unfounded,” he said. “If we identify needs within the family like counseling or substance abuse treatment, we will provide the resources to them so it doesn’t become a situation of abuse or neglect.”

The DCFS hotline is 1-800-25-ABUSE, and anyone can make the call, Clarkin said.

Two-thirds of DCFS’s reports come from mandated reporters, which includes law enforcement, hospital staff, teachers and others, he said.

He said anyone who suspects a child may be being abused or neglected should call the hotline, even if they’re not sure.

“We want to check to make sure the child is safe,” he said. “It is a service they need, and it’s much better to have an unfounded call than a 911 call or emergency visit when a child is already injured or deceased. The second thing to remember is that new parents in particular need a lot of support.”

He said if someone sees a stressed parent, they should talk to them and offer any help they can.

Here in Jefferson County, when a child abuse case involving sexual abuse goes into the court system, The Amy Center is there to provide support for the child and his or her family.

The Amy Center provides a site for a forensic interview between the child, DCFS and law enforcement, said Ladonna Richards, executive director.

“We conduct a victim-sensitive interview,” she said. “It’s about fact finding, and it’s non-leading. It is conducted with no preconceived notions about the family. It’s conducted very fair — we have days and weeks of training. We talk with the child, make them comfortable, and let them tell their story in their own developmental stage.”

Richards said the center provides DVDs of the interview to law enforcement and the state’s attorney, as well as keeping a copy on site.

The center typically is handling between 90 and 100 cases at a time in its seven-county jurisdiction, she said, with over half of the caseload coming from Mt. Vernon, Centralia and Marion due to population.

Once the court case begins, advocates from the center go to all court dates and appeals, usually in the place of family members who might have otherwise gone.

“It takes such a long time and there are so many continuances, many people can’t get off work,” she said. “That’s our job.”

Advocates attend court with the child when he or she is going to speak, either while testifying or providing a victim impact statement. In addition, Amy Center advocates help families with the process of attending counseling facilities.

She said part of their job is showing that someone cares about the caretakers and the child.

“If the parents have left for some reason, the caretakers may need things,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a bad situation and they need help with shelter. We do receive a grant for $1,000 to $2,000 for grandparents or relatives raising children. In many cases, a family member is raising the children for whatever reason.

“They may need a car seat, or they hadn’t expected to be providing food or diapers on their fixed income. Sometimes, that’s all they need, is someone to care, to acknowledge that they are past the stage of child rearing in their life. We need to help, and that grant is for that purpose.”