"My job and my role is to ensure kids’ safety, and that is my goal every time I walk out of my door, knock on a door or sit in someone’s living room."
Molly Evans knew working with kids was what made her heart beat with excitement and purpose. In college, she interned in a DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) office and took a class in child welfare that solidified her goal of working with families and one-on-one with kids. After college, she worked at a private agency as a Family Enhancement worker, helping intact families get help with parenting skills, job searches, even housing, as well as supervised parent-child visits.
The Role of an Investigator
After almost three years as a caseworker, Molly had the opportunity to become an investigator—and found her “fit” there. “The work is different than a caseworker—and very challenging.” Part of the challenge is that there really isn’t a “normal” day-to-day routine. “Every day is different—many days can’t be planned for,” she explains.
Molly’s job is to investigate reports of abuse or neglect within a one-hour radius of her local DCFS office. Where she goes is often dependent on what has been reported. Anyone can call the hotline to report abuse or neglect, and if the person who answers the phone determines that an investigation is warranted, an investigator will be assigned to check on the reported situation. She may have to find the children at school or in the police department or in their home. She’ll contact teachers, doctors, counselors and family members to determine whether the situation is unsafe or hazardous to children. In some instances, there’s no need for action. Not all hotline calls result in children being removed from their home.
Abuse and neglect can come in various forms, from physical issues to lack of food or education.
Contrary to popular belief, an investigator’s goal is not to automatically remove a child or children from their home. “I want to talk with everyone to get a full picture,” Molly explains. “Sometimes there’s nothing that constitutes abuse or neglect—there are certain criteria that have to be met.” She also looks for risk factors, and can pass along information such as the benefits of counseling to a vulnerable family that is still intact.
In other cases, when children are removed from the home, it’s done as a last resort. “We do our best to provide services to keep the family together—we help them do the things that are necessary to get their kids back.” Her ultimate role, and goal, is to ensure the safety of the children.
Molly estimates that she conducts more than 100 investigations in a year—but none are the same because each family has different dynamics.
When the Door Opens
Molly never quite knows what will happen when she knocks on a door. “Most people don’t greet me with open arms,” she admits, largely, she believes, because of the stigma of DCFS. The goal, however, is to get inside—to sit together at the kitchen table or on the sofa—in order to get past the resistance and fear. “I want to treat everyone with respect—to explain why I’m there and what the goal of the visit is.” Understandably, some people are upset by an abuse or neglect accusation—but the best results come when everyone is informed and knows what caused the visit and, more importantly, what happens next.
Involvement with TFI
The office where Molly works has benefitted from various programs found under the TFI umbrella. “TFI has been such a blessing—we’ve received resources from our community because churches and organizations have stepped up to care for kids.” Initiatives include Project Sunshine, where visitation rooms in the agency office have been transformed into kid-friendly, warm spaces with nice toys and a comfortable atmosphere where children wait or parental visits take place; Journey Bags, that provide specific items for children brought into foster care, and First Response, where immediate needs are met such as furnishings for children.
“Foster care is hard on so many levels—to be able to hand a child a backpack full of brand new stuff, things they need and an encouraging note, or to have older youth and teens have every one of the items on their Christmas wish list provided through a local church—it’s great to come alongside as God’s people advocate on DCFS’s and the children’s behalf,” says Molly.
Advice for Getting Involved
Molly’s advice for those who might be considering getting involved with their local foster care community is to start small and practical, because foster parenting is not an insignificant undertaking. “Foster parents have a hard job—it’s hard to open your heart, home, family, even extended family to a child. It changes your whole life—it might be for two weeks, it might be forever.”
If you’re interested, go online to find the agencies in your community and talk with the licensing worker in the office to get information about the requirements for your location. The training classes help you understand not only the nuts and bolts about being a foster parent, but also will help you understand if you can or really want to be a foster parent. It’s got to be a good fit, and the timing needs to be right.
The need for foster parents is great. “We need good homes, loving homes, that are willing to take in kids during their time of need,” says Molly.
Hopefully, this episode has helped you right where you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal. If you enjoyed it, will you tell others?
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Meet Our Guest
Molly has worked with the Illinois the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for almost 15 years, and is currently an investigator. She has a bachelor of science and master of social work degrees, both from Illinois State University. Molly has worked closely with TFI since 2011 when the ministry was founded.
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