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.
Our 2017 Annual Report is Out!
The Family Defense Center’s annual report is now available. The report outlines major achievements for 2017, including our legal services statistics for the year. Read more…
The Family Defense Center Releases Report on Best Practices for Child Welfare Investigations Involving Parents with Mental Health Conditions
The Family Defense Center released a report that identifies best practices for conducting investigations where a parent or caregiver has a mental health condition or investigations where there is an alleged mental health condition. Read more…
Illinois Parent Attorney Network Hosts Training on Appeals
On January 19, the Illinois Parent Attorney Network (IPAN) hosted a training on “Successfully Appealing Juvenile Court Abuse and Neglect Cases and Parental Terminations” at the Cook County Public Defender’s office. Read more…
Thank You, and Save the Date!
Over 100 people joined The Family Defense Center on January 12 at the CIBC Theatre to see the award-winning musical Hamilton.
Save the date for our annual Mother’s Day event, which is on May 10, at 4 p.m. at Baker McKenzie. Read more…
As Executive Director of The Family Defense Center, I commend the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune for taking a strong stance against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS’) policy to investigate all child deaths that might be related to “unsafe sleep” in the editorial “Infant death and DCFS: Is unsafe sleep abusive?” and encourage all of you to read it.
I appreciated the editorial’s emphasis on how investigations can re-traumatize families – investigations are invasive and especially distressing to parents who are grieving the loss of their child. At The Family Defense Center, we have seen cases where DCFS investigations of infant deaths result in the removal of the family’s other children even when they are not vulnerable to the same risk, further compounding the trauma families experience after an infant’s death. I also commend the editorial board for highlighting DCFS’ system-wide shortcomings, particularly the agency’s “inability to prioritize its caseload.” Precious public resources should be focused on helping children who are truly abused and neglected, and on strengthening families, instead of punishing loving parents who are distraught by the accidental death of their infant child.
The Family Defense Center agrees with the Chicago Tribune that investigators should not be spending resources on probing families who do not conform to DCFS’s preferred sleep practices, and recommends changing this punitive policy. Furthermore, we are concerned about the pattern of DCFS enacting policies off the books – like any other state agency policy, it should, at the very least, be subject to review by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
Cases like the one referenced in the editorial also remind us of the need for lawyers and advocates that specialize in DCFS cases. The Family Defense Center is the only nonprofit organization in the state that provides affordable legal advocacy for families in the child welfare system at the outset of an investigation, the point at which families need the most help navigating the complex DCFS bureaucracy. Given the complex and dynamic nature of child welfare policy, it is crucial for all parents to have access to attorneys that specialize in matters involving DCFS and pursue systemic changes that ensure a more just child welfare system for all Illinois families.
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.