We focus attention on the role poverty, prejudice, and perception play in decisions made by child welfare authorities to separate families.
Our Mission The Family Defense Center was founded in 2005 with the mission of advocating justice for families in the child welfare system. Now, with its expert staff of attorneys and more than 150 pro bono attorneys from Chicago lawRead more
The Family Defense Center has brought a number of important cases which have established invaluable precedents and protections for children and families in the child welfare system.
We represent families of all kinds who have one thing in common: they deserve fair treatment and due process in the child welfare system.
Resources for individuals and professionals include manuals and articles on various facets of the Department of Children and Family Services.
Founder and Legal Director Diane Redleaf presented “When Can Parents Let Children Be Alone?” at TEDxUChicago 2017 in May. Diane discusses the cases of The Family Defense Center’s client Natasha Felix, a mother who let her children play in the park next door, and the Meitivs, a family who gained national attention after allowing their children to walk home from the park. These cases illustrate the flaws in existing child welfare laws that lead to misplaced charges of child neglect and a fear to let kids play alone.
While discussing these flawed policies, Diane asks, “Does this policy distinguish between Natasha, the Meitivs, and a truly neglectful [parent]? If it doesn’t, it’s a bad policy.”
Watch Diane’s TEDx Talk below to learn how we can move forward to let kids play!
The Center continues to advocate for the rights of families, and, if you would like to support this work, please donate here.
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Every day we provide much-needed legal representation and advocacy for parents and caregivers who have become involved in the Illinois child welfare system, a system that we know is fraught with conflict over how best to serve and protect children and is in desperate need of reform.
The past few weeks have been tumultuous ones for the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS). Recent stories of tragic child deaths from the last few years have sparked inquiries into DCFS policies and investigators’ practices by the media and by the DCFS Office of Inspector General. This week, DCFS Director George Sheldon resigned.
In our role as an independent non-profit organization that works exclusively on DCFS matters, we unfortunately have a unique vantage point on the systemic failures. The fact that there have been nine DCFS agency directors in the last seven years makes reform difficult. The reality of trying to improve the system at a time when our state has not had a budget in almost two years makes reform feel impossible.
However, our organization exists in order to hold this system accountable and, at the same time, shape policy in a way that protects children by defending families who need help. While the State of Illinois and DCFS leaders are considering how to move forward, we will continue advocating for families, and working to keep them safe and strong. At the same time, we will continue pushing reform in any way that we can.
We have a vision of a state where the rights of families are respected, protected, and supported by a system that is just and fair, and everything we do here at The Family Defense Center is with that in mind.
Thank you for supporting the important work we do for Illinois families, which is needed now more than ever.
Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg
What our clients say:
Thank you for all your help in the DCFS case involving my daughter. We had no idea what was involved, what the process was, the implications of the potential case on my daughter's career and the need for a Dupuy letter and, finally, how to find out why and how to follow-up to get a final letter from DCFS showing the case was "unfounded."
I have had a successful nursing career for almost eight years and love caring for people but most of all love caring for my daughter and to have DCFS "called on us" when we did nothing wrong was such a shattering life experience. Calling your office was the best thing we could have done! You gave us support and guidance in a time when it was hard to find our way. We never knew of the problems with the system until we were involved personally with it.
So many times, in my opinion, the law is twisted around to prosecute victimless crimes and people that shouldn't be imprisoned, or defends those who should. Your legal talents have righted a wrong, and relieved so much anxiety for my family.
Thank you so much for everything you did for our family, your dedication to help families like us is simply exceptional and outstanding. We forever will be grateful, because we know without you this would of taken a different route, much harder and more painful.