Can I Sue DCFS for Abuse or Wrongful Death of a Child in Illinois?Can I Sue DCFS for Abuse or Wrongful Death of a Child in Illinois

All children depend upon us for their food, shelter and of course safety. But of special concern are those children who have been thrust into the “system” because some danger existing in their environment required them to be moved or placed into a different (safer) home or facility. Children deserve room to grow and heal from whatever past abuse brought them into the system in the first place. But unfortunately, despite what are often genuinely good intentions, the actions of the Department of Children & Family Services (DFCS) and their associated welfare agencies sometimes just create more difficulties than they solve, and can result in the personal injury, sexual abuse or even death of a child.

DCFS Lawsuit Attorneys for Injuries to Children and Teens

The experienced attorneys affiliated with Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC have been aggressively fighting DCFS, private child welfare agencies and the Illinois foster care system on cases like these for over 34 years, resulting in millions of dollars in successful settlements and verdicts for our deserving children and their families. Our attorneys represent numerous clients, all seeking fair compensation and justice for wrongs committed against them or their children.

Often times, DCFS delegates the foster care placement and case management of these cases to third party agencies that handle child welfare such as Lutheran Social Services, who as an example, was successfully sued by one of our affiliated attorneys and ordered to pay $45,000,000 related the beating death of a 2 year-old child.

Our office can be reached 24/7 at (312) 243-9922 for free information about how we can help you. No attorney fees are ever charged until we’re successful.

Do Time Limits Apply for Filing a Lawsuit Against DCFS?

In order to sue DCFS and/or a foster placement for injuries to a child within their care, a lawsuit must first be filed. Usually, personal injury lawsuits must be filed within a very specific period of years, known as a “statute of limitations”. But although the usual deadline to file is 2 years for adults involving cases like car accidents or medical malpractice, the same is not true for minors or for victims of sexual abuse.

Children don’t know how to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit. That’s why under the law, the timeclock for filing a childhood injury lawsuit in Illinois is often different than it is for an adult. It does not usually even begin to run until the child has reached the age of majority, generally 18 years old. Even then, there have been new changes to the laws in Illinois that greatly extend the statute of limitations for lawsuits related to sexual abuse and assaults, in some cases eliminating the time deadline entirely.

How to Receive Compensation for Injuries While in DCFS Placement

Every case is different, but a lawsuit seeking compensation for injuries or a wrongful death that occurred while in the custody of DCFS, Foster Care or a Child Welfare agency will usually take place in this order:

  1. Determine if You Have a Time Deadline
    As quickly as possible, speak to a knowledgeable legal team with experience in this area to determine what the statute of limitations is for your case. It is extremely important to know whether a deadline applies and when that might be, because if a lawsuit is not filed withing that time period, your right to file may be lost forever. This is vital and should be determined immediately. If possible, call us now.
  2. Hire Legal Counsel & File Your Lawsuit
    Once you’ve selected a lawyer, they will work with you to determine who the proper defendants should be and then quickly file your papers with the court in order to preserve your rights. Attorneys such as Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC charge a fee only if successful and only you receive a monetary recovery. There is never a charge for speaking to your lawyer, for going to court or for any other work that your lawyer does on your behalf.
  3. Negotiate & Litigate Your Case
    We know that this is an extremely personal and sensitive matter. And we know that most people really don’t want to re-tell their story in court if that can be avoided. So, while we are aggressively working on your lawsuit and going to court for you, we will also try to negotiate a money settlement for you to avoid the necessity of an actual trial if that is what you desire. Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC has worked out many such settlements totaling many millions of dollars for our deserving clients. We’ll work hard to accomplish the same for you.
  4. Seek Financial Compensation
    We know that child abuse, sexual assault and neglect have life-long effects that can leave permanent physical and psychological damage, while the death of a child profoundly impacts parents and their lives. We will seek maximum financial compensation in some or all of these areas:

    • Medical expenses: Reimbursement for all of the medical treatment that was, and may continue to be, associated with the trauma, whether these are medical bills for hospital and doctor services, or psychiatric / psychological services for PTSD and other conditions
    • Pain and suffering: Although it is impossible to ever put a dollar value on the physical pain, scarring, disability or emotional trauma you have experienced, we will seek the maximum available financial recovery from those responsible to help with your future treatment and to at least try to compensate for wrongs done to you
    • Earning capacity loss: Compensation for financial earing opportunities you may have missed because of the psychological or physical effects of your injuries, including the loss of potential future earnings.

Examples of Monetary Settlements for Failure to Protect

Lawsuits and settlements against DCFS and other child welfare agencies responsible for the safety and protection of children in their custody occur regularly in Chicago, across Illinois and across the country. Some examples of some recent settlements and verdicts include:

  • $40,000,000 settlement involving Oregon Department of Human Services to four children physically and sexually abused in a foster home
  • $1,500,000 settlement involving New Mexico Children Youth & Family Services for brother and sister abused in foster care
  • $32,000,000 settlement involving California Child Welfare Services for failing to respond to abuse reports of malnutrition leading to hospitalization and brain damage
  • $1,250,000 settlement involving New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services for child abuse and torture while in foster care
  • $750,000 tentative settlement involving Hawaii Department of Human Services for the death of a child who fell out of a window while in foster care
  • $4,000,000 settlement involving North Carolina Department of Social Services for illegally separating child from her family resulting in child becoming homeless
  • $19,300,000 settlement involving Washington for improperly removing a child from a stable placement in foster care and sending to Texas where child was beaten resulting in child becoming blind, quadriplegic and suffering brain damage
  • $6,250,000 settlement involving New York foster care agency for placing children in a home with a known history of child neglect

Does DCFS Have a Legal Responsibility to Protect Children in their Care?

Yes, absolutely. When DCFS investigates an abuse or neglect complaint, determines that the report is “indicated” and then chooses to become involved in that child’s life, both DCFS and whatever person or facility the child has been placed with becomes legally responsible for the child’s well-being.

Employees of the Department of Children & Family Services wield great power over children and families. DCFS places children with close family members whenever possible, but sometimes, children need to be placed in foster care facilities or with foster parents. Yet regardless of where a child is placed, whether with a close relative or not, dangers will always exist regardless of whether the placement is with family or not.

For this reason, whether DCFS places a child with a foster care facility, adoption facility, shelter, social service agency, foster family or family member, it is the legal responsibility of DCFS and any third party to whom they have delegated responsibility to make sure that the placement does not put the child in danger or harm’s way.

Examples of DCFS Failing to Protect Children

When DCFS becomes involved, they may choose to leave the child with a parent under a “continuing care plan”, place the child with another relative, or place the child with a foster family, a shelter, foster care facility or other approved location.

If an avoidable injury, sexual assault or death then occurs while the child is within the care of DCFS or child welfare placement, Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC can immediately file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages to hold those responsible as accountable for their actions (or inactions). Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC would also determine whether the lawsuit would be best filed in Federal Court as a civil rights case or in State Court. Some of these failures to protect against danger include:

  • Allowing a child to remain in a home where a known sexual predator or sexual offender lives
  • Failure to remove a child from a home in which their sexual or physical abuser still lives
  • Failure to properly investigate people within the home for history of physical or sexual abuse, serious mental health issues, mental health hospitalizations, drug use or violent criminal history
  • Failure to remove children from psychiatric hospitals after cleared for release
  • Failed to initiate an investigation within 24 hours of receiving an abuse / neglect report
  • Failure to promptly notify schools of its findings related to sexual abuse or physical harm
  • Failure to respond to abuse or neglect reports made to the Illinois State Abuse Hotline or by doctors, teachers or other mandatory reporters
  • Failure to coordinate information between DCFS and the Illinois Division of Mental Health to make sure parents comply with an aftercare or discharge plan
  • Failure to consistently and thoroughly check up on children while in placement
  • Failure to communicate and coordinate with Police
  • Violation of DCFS procedures by Child Protection Investigators
  • Failure to investigate and determine whether an allegation is “indicated” or “unfounded” within the required time period
  • Failure to maintain accurate and complete child welfare files
  • Failure to complete initial child service plans within required period of days
  • Failure to provide proof that a written Safety Plan was provided to caregivers, guardians and parents
  • Failure to keep fingerprints and updated photographs of children in files
  • Lack of sufficient bilingual support staff to support children who speak other languages, especially Spanish
  • Failure to report psychiatric or hospital abuse promptly to the Director of Healthcare and Family Services, as well as to the Department of Health
  • Failure to keep child identification forms on file
  • Failure to complete initial placement checklists on file detailing any special needs or IEPs for child
  • Failure to immediately report to the State’s Attorney incidents where children are born with drugs in their system
  • Lack of procedures in place to allow corrective action against child welfare agencies that fail to report when foster children leave a placement, run away, or conduct home visits at least every 30 days

Reasons Why DCFS Fails to Protect Some Children

Most people who work for DCFS do have the desire to help children. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, they fail to provide the protection that these children need, and as a result, many each year are injured, abused or killed as a result. Why? Some of the reasons include:

  • Lack of staffing / not enough DCFS employees
  • Lack of proper training
  • Delays in making the initial contact with the child
  • Failure to coordinate with police about potential safety issues
  • Lack of coordination within DCFS
  • Investigators failing to follow agency protocols and rules
  • Overloaded investigators
  • Failing to take action on hotline calls
  • Poor or inadequate investigations
  • Purposely falsifying records
  • Closing cases too quickly

How Common is Abuse While in Custody of DCFS?

Unfortunately, abuse is all too common, although it’s estimated that more than half of all abuse is never reported in the first place, including sexual abuse, torture, physical assault, starvation, and other abuses which happen daily for some children and teens in DCFS placements and foster care.

In one recent report released by the DCFS Office of the Inspector General, their data revealed 171 wrongful deaths in that one year, a 40% increase in child deaths setting a long-term high. Also identified in this report was the fact that in some of those cases, it took investigators more than 300 days to make the first initial contact with the child; an dangerous and unsatisfactory statistic that is not in keeping with DCFS guidelines and which may have contributed to these unfortunate deaths.

Despite hundreds of reports of abuse and neglect made each year by foster children alleging abuse by foster parents, the vast majority of them are ultimately disregarded as “unfounded” after (what is often a not very thorough) investigation. That even includes complaints of torture, broken bones, head trauma and burns.

Can Police and Child Protection Investigators be held Responsible?

Yes, depending on the circumstances, a Police Department and their investigators may be subject to civil rights lawsuits when their failures to protect a child are extreme and reckless. Regarding Child Protection Investigators, most recently in Illinois, an investigator assigned to a Crystal Lake / McHenry County child’s case (A.J. Freund) was named along with his DCFS supervisor in a federal lawsuit alleging a violation of the child’s constitutional rights and seeking money damages related to the child’s death.

The assigned investigator was also criminally charged in Waukegan / Lake County with this matter and sentenced to jail and probation for what was alleged to be the mishandling of the child’s DCFS case by ignoring police warnings, suspicious bruising, and conducting “sham” investigations, and this was alleged to have eventually contributed to the beating death of the child.

Warning Signs of Child Abuse & Neglect That May be Missed by DCFS

When DCFS misses warning signs that abuse or neglect are occurring at a placement and a child is injured or abuse or killed as a result of their failures, a lawsuit can be filed to seek monetary damages. Although no amount of money can ever “fix” an abused or molested child, and no amount of money can ever bring back a child who has died, this type of lawsuit can still send a strong message that holds DCFS accountable. Warning signs of child abuse that DCFS may miss include:

Emotional Abuse
involves harm to a child’s self-esteem or emotional well-being and may include insulting behavior, rejection of the child, belittling the child, bullying the child, isolating the child or yelling at the child. Some of the warning signs that may be missed include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Decreased enjoyment in activities
  • Increased shyness in social situations
  • Age-inappropriate behavior or immaturity
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self-harm or destructive behavior

Physical Abuse
involves the intentional infliction of physical harm on the child. Some of the warning signs that may be missed include:

  • Child visibly upset or crying when child is returned to the caregiver, foster placement or parent
  • Unexplained injuries that don’t fit the explanation from the caregiver or child
  • Unexplained bruising, cuts, burns or broken/fractured bones
  • Child appearing frightened of the caregiver
  • Old healing injuries that may indicate previous abuses
  • Signs of excessive corporal punishment by the caregiver

Child Neglect
involves a caregiver who fails to provide for the basic needs of the child. Some of the warning signs that may be missed include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Weight loss
  • Torn, dirty, weather-inappropriate or wrong sized clothing
  • Poor hygiene

Sexual Abuse
involves a caregiver who engages in sexual exploitation, sexual activity, rape, intercourse, molestation, or use of pornography with a child. Some of the warning signs that may be missed include:

  • Age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual information
  • Genital pain, injury or itching
  • Sexual contact with other children
  • Sexually transmitted disease or childhood pregnancy
  • Bloody or stained undergarments

Speak to an Experienced Former Abuse & Neglect Prosecutor

Attorney Mitchell Sexner, founder and managing attorney of Sexner Injury Lawyers LLC is also a former Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney who prosecuted abuse and neglect cases involving physical abuse and sexual assaults in Chicago. He now leads a talented and successful team of affiliated attorneys as they pursue justice and fair compensation for their deserving clients and families. Call 24 hours a day to reach a live person at (312) 243-9922 or contact us online here. All calls are confidential and without obligation. We look forward to speaking to you.