1.  Understand the Parties Involved.  DCFS is not the police, a judge, or a prosecutor.  DCFS is a state agency with its own agenda  –protecting children.  They have their own powers (and limitations) and their own rules.  Sometimes, they break their own rules, and they are often at odds with other parties and players.  Police investigate crimes and arrest suspects.  Judges issue orders that demand compliance.  Prosecutors (in the State of Illinois called “State’s Attorneys”) can prosecute crimes and pursue remedies in juvenile petitions where there is abuse or neglect of a child.  DCFS can investigate abuse and neglect resulting in an “indicated “ or “unfounded “ determination and file petitions, but only the state’s attorney can prosecute the petitions.  To protect yourself in juvenile court you need to know and understand the parties as well as their roles, limitations and agenda.

2. Understand DCFS and Juvenile Court Language.  An adjudicatory hearing is a trial to determine whether there is an abusive or neglectful environment for a child in which the court should be involved.  If adjudicated, the court will make a disposition, which includes determinations of fact and law, and should make a roadmap for a parent to have a child returned to their care.  Shelter care is an emergency order based upon immediate and urgent necessity to remove a child from a home. A safety plan is an informal yet important agreement between DCFS and a parent on a temporary basis.  If a child is made a ward of the court, it doesn’t necessarily mean a child is removed from a parent’s care; it merely means the court will be involved in decisions in a child’s life. You may hear that “Juvenile Court proceedings are non-adversarial.  This is only partly true.  There is not supposed to be any “us against them” mindsets, but all of the parties have different roles and agendas and they are often contrary to one another.  You need a juvenile law lawyer to help you untangle the mess.

3. Be Careful What You Say.   What you tell a DCFS worker can be used against you later in court or in a separate civil or criminal proceeding.  It is often best to not talk to a DCFS investigator.  The best approach is to have a lawyer do the talking for you.

4. Juvenile Court Trumps All.  Once the juvenile court has jurisdiction over the parties, every other single court order must fall in line and follow the rules of juvenile court.  What DCFS says doesn’t control anymore.  Safety plans may be out the window.  You can give guardianship of a child to another person without court approval.  Grandparents’ rights don’t apply in juvenile court, even though grandparents are often looked to by DCFS for relative care and foster parent help.  If a parent doesn’t take juvenile court proceedings seriously, they could ultimately lose their parental rights.