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How to Sue DCFS and Child Welfare Agencies in Illinois for Child Abuse and Neglect

Children in Illinois rely on child welfare agencies to place them in safe, hospitable environments after removing them from abusive homes. Ironically, thousands of children are abused and neglected every year while under the care of these agencies. If you were abused or neglected in foster care or other agency placements, our experienced child welfare negligence attorneys can help you pursue substantial compensation from the agencies that failed to protect you.

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Vulnerable children and teens who were already removed from abusive situations deserve to live in nurturing environments free of abuse and neglect, where they can grow, receive an education, and heal from the trauma they experienced as a result of past abuse.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and private child welfare agencies may be liable for negligence when they fail to protect children and teens from harm. If you or your loved one experienced abuse in foster care, a group home, or a state-run institution, you deserve justice. Call our experienced DCFS negligence lawyers today at 877-374-1417 for a free consultation.

How Common Is Illinois DCFS Abuse and Negligence?

The prevalence of abuse and negligence in the child welfare system is unclear because these cases are too often swept under the rug. According to a CBS News Chicago investigative report, nine out of ten reports of abuse from foster children are marked “unfounded” by DCFS. This investigation uncovered the following disturbing statistics:

  • From 2016 to 2021, foster children made 6,000 abuse and neglect allegations against 3,200 foster parents.
  • DCFS listed sexual abuse allegations as unfounded 88 percent of the time.
  • Reports of physical harm, including allegations of broken bones, head injuries, torture, burns, and being tied up, were ruled unfounded 91 percent of the time.

According to the national child advocacy organization Darkness to Light, children rarely lieabout abuse. One study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimated that a mere four to eight percent of sexual abuse allegations are false, and most of these allegations are made not by the children but by parents in custody battles.

The reports made to DCFS are only the tip of the iceberg. Nationwide, an estimated 62 percent of child sexual abuse cases are unreported. This number may be higher for Illinois foster children because they live under the threat of retribution if they dare report abuse.

CBS News interviewed 14 former foster children who reported abuse but were left in abusive homes while their abusers suffered no consequences. To date, none of their abusers have been prosecuted. One of the interviewees tearfully told CBS News that her caseworker just did not care.

The interviewees expressed that children who courageously report abuse receive little or no advocacy and have no protection from retaliation. Although DCFS is required to interview children who report abuse without the foster parents present, the 14 former foster children interviewed for the CBS report alleged that this rule is not followed.

DCFS Deficiencies According to the Most Recent State Examination

DCFS is tasked with investigating reports of child abuse, removing children from abusive homes, and placing them in safe homes that are free of abuse. DCFS often delegates case management and foster care placement to private child welfare agencies.

These agencies are responsible for the safety and well-being of the children in their care. DCFS has a legal duty to screen and supervise these agencies.

The Illinois Auditor General inspects the operations of DCFS every two years to ensure compliance with the law. The most recent inspection, completed June 30, 2022, found 33 violations, many of which directly impact the safety of children. Despite claims by DCFS that they have improved since 2020, it is clear from this audit that children in state custody in Illinois still lack the safety net they deserve.

Incomplete Child Welfare Files

Maintaining complete and accurate files is crucial for ensuring that all children placed in care are accounted for and that all workers who access the files have accurate and complete information. Incomplete files can lead to children being inappropriately placed or going missing for an extended period before anyone at the Department notices. The auditor general found the following deficiencies:

  • Initial Service Plans for children placed in custody were completed up to 178 days later than the required 45 days.
  • Children’s photos and fingerprints were not indicated as being maintained in the case files.
  • Children’s medical and dental consent forms were missing from the files.
  • Initial Placement Checklists were not completed, and these are important because they provide documentation of the special needs of children under DCFS care.
  • Child Identification Forms were not maintained in the case files.

Non-Compliance with the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act

The inspection found that DCFS was slow to report child abuse and neglect to the appropriate authorities as follows:

  • DCFS waited 218 to 920 days to report when children were born with drugs in their systems to the state attorney’s office, which should have been done immediately.
  • DCFS took 34 to 885 days after investigations to report hospital or psychiatric hospital abuse to the Department of Health and the Director of Healthcare and Family Services.
  • DCFS failed to timely notify schools of its findings in child physical and sexual abuse investigations.
  • DCFS failed to immediately notify law enforcement of deaths or serious injuries in 20 percent of cases reviewed—a repeat offense found in every inspection since 2012.

Noncompliance with the School Code

The inspection revealed that DCFS failed to notify schools of its findings in sexual abuse investigations in 96 percent of cases reviewed. This failure often deprived schools of the opportunity to protect children from further sexual abuse.

Untimely Child Abuse and Neglect Determinations

DCFS violated the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act when it failed to reach a determination of whether the abuse was “indicated” or “unfounded” within the required 60-day time frame. In 50 percent of cases reviewed, DCFS was up to 335 days late.

Untimely Initiation of Investigations of Child Abuse and Neglect

DCFS failed to initiate investigations within 24 hours of receiving child abuse and neglect reports in 488 cases in 2021 and 2022.

Noncompliance with the Children and Family Services Act

DCFS was unable to provide a copy of the required Written Safety Plan or provide evidence that the parents, guardians, or other caregivers had received a copy. This deficiency was noted in eight percent of cases reviewed, casting doubt on whether Written Safety Plans were completed for these children.

Insufficient Bilingual Staff

DCFS has failed to increase the number of bilingual frontline staff and maintain a level of at least 194 bilingual staff to ensure Spanish-speaking children and families receive adequate services and communication. In June of 2007, DCFS employed 154 bilingual frontline staff. As of July 1, 2022, only 139 staff members were bilingual.

Noncompliance with the Child Care Act of 1969

The auditor general found that DCFS had no procedures in place to do any of the following:

  • Suspend payments to private child welfare agencies that fail to complete at least one home visit every 30 days to confirm children in foster homes were still residing in the home and that they were safe.
  • Place foster homes that fail to report a missing child on hold for placement of other children.
  • Suspend the placement of children into the care of private child welfare agencies that fail to report when a foster child is no longer residing in the home.
  • Take corrective action against private child welfare agencies that fail to report when foster children are not residing in the home.

How Can Levin & Perconti Help Victims of DCFS Abuse?

Filing a case against DCFS or a private child welfare agency means you will be up against a large entity with access to virtually unlimited financial resources to fight your claim. Our award-winning personal injury lawyers have the experience and resources to stand up to these agencies and hold them accountable.

To prevail in a personal injury lawsuit in Illinois, you must prove that the defendant was negligent and caused you harm. Without a competent attorney with experience handling negligence claims against DCFS and child welfare agencies, you may be unable to access the evidence you need to prove your claim.

We know what it takes to force these agencies to turn over the evidence you need. When you choose our resourceful DCFS negligence attorneys, you can rest assured we will expose the agency’s failures to protect you and will refuse to accept anything less than the compensation you deserve.

Compensation for DCFS Negligence

The effects of child abuse are known to cause lifelong physical, emotional, and social complications. The consequences of abuse could impact your ability to finish school, maintain employment, or enjoy healthy relationships. You may have permanent physical injuries, such as improperly healed broken bones, scarring, and reproductive harm.

You deserve financial compensation for all of these losses and more. Damages in a child welfare negligence case may include compensation for the following:

  • Medical expenses – The cost of all medical treatment associated with the abuse, including treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological effects of abuse
  • Pain and suffering – The physical pain you experienced during the abuse, emotional trauma, and any scarring or disabilities you suffer as a result
  • Loss of earning capacity – Economic opportunities you missed out on because of the physical or psychological effects of the abuse, including future earnings

The value of your case against child protective services will depend on several factors. These include the severity of the injuries, the cost of medical treatment, the impact of the injuries on the victim’s ability to earn an income, and the emotional trauma suffered as a result of the injury.

In some cases, courts may award punitive damages to plaintiffs to punish the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services or the responsible child welfare agency for egregious misconduct.

How Is Liability Determined for Abuse and Neglect While in Social Services Custody?

Multiple parties may be liable for the abuse and neglect you experienced while you were under the care of social services. Whether you suffered abuse in a foster home, a group home, a hospital, or anywhere else while in state custody, you may have grounds to sue any institution with responsibility for any aspect of your care.

If your case was managed by a private child welfare agency, it may be liable for the harm you suffered. In fact, child welfare agencies in Illinois are more likely to be directly involved than DCFS.

DCFS supervises child welfare agencies in Illinois, and in some cases, DCFS can also be named in the lawsuit. DCFS may also be liable if you were under its direct supervision.

If you were in a group home, hospital, or other facility when you suffered the abuse, it may also be possible to hold the facility liable. The individual perpetrators who committed the abuse may be held civilly and criminally liable. These are just a few examples of who may be liable.

Our compassionate and skilled social services attorneys will determine who should be held liable based on the specific circumstances of the abuse you suffered. You can count on us to believe you and fight as your strongest advocates to ensure you are heard, acknowledged, and compensated.

How Much Time Do I Have to File a Lawsuit Against DCFS or a Child Welfare Agency?

If you were sexually abused while in DCFS custody, you generally have up to 20 years after you turn 18 to file a claim. However, this can vary based on when you become aware of the abuse and the harm it caused.

If you suffered other types of harm while in DCFS custody, the Illinois personal injury statute of limitations gives you until your 20th birthday to file a lawsuit in most cases.

If you are the parent, guardian, or other caregiver of a child harmed in DCFS custody, you have up to two years to file a claim for your losses, such as your child’s medical expenses and your lost wages.

Our Featured Social Services Attorney

Attorney Megan O’Connor is an accomplished attorney passionate about empowering abuse survivors and giving them a voice. She has been recognized twice as a top oral advocate at the National Moot Court Competition for Child Welfare and Adoption Law.

She has won close to $100 million in verdicts and settlements, including nearly $65 million for victims of child welfare agency negligence. She is a nationally recognized leader in child welfare justice and has given lectures on the subject at state and national events. When you need a child welfare negligence lawyer, Megan O’Connor is an advocate you can trust.

Contact Levin & Perconti Today Regarding Your Child Welfare Negligence Case

Our attorneys have over 400 years of combined experience helping clients win remarkable verdicts and settlements against large companies. Our financial resources allow us to invest every dollar necessary to win you the maximum financial award available.

We refuse to accept less than fair compensation. We do not have to accept less because we are successful trial lawyers unafraid to take DCFS or private welfare agencies to court if that is what it takes to get you the compensation you deserve.

Our past clients regularly send us unsolicited testimonials, such as the following:


If you or your loved one has been abused or neglected while in DCFS custody, our DCFS negligence attorneys can help you recover the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a child welfare negligence lawyer.