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Child-abuse claims vs. parents' rights

Supreme Court mulls whether to take a suit accusing Illinois of forcing families to give up rights.

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The US Supreme Court is being asked to determine whether procedures used in Illinois to investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect violate the fundamental rights of parents.

The case arises at a legal crossroads between the government's interest in moving quickly to safeguard children from abuse or neglect and the right of parents to raise and maintain a family without undue government interference.

The high court is scheduled to consider whether to take up the case, Dupuy v. McEwen, at its private conference Thursday. An order agreeing or refusing to hear the appeal could come as early as Monday.

State procedures to investigate allegations of child abuse have been a topic of national concern after more than 400 children from a polygamist group's ranch in west Texas were taken from their parents and held for nearly two months in foster care. The Texas Supreme Court later ordered state officials to return the children to their parents while the investigation continues.

At issue in the Illinois case is whether state officials can use the potential threat of placing children in foster care as a means to pressure parents to forfeit their parental rights.

Agents with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) routinely advise parents in the initial stage of an abuse investigation that their children may be taken into state custody unless the parents agree to a state-imposed "safety plan." Such plans can require the accused parent or parents to leave the home immediately and cease all unsupervised contact with their children for the duration of the investigation, according to a lawsuit filed by a group of Illinois parents.

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