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 law firms taking cases, the Center provides civil legal assistance to hundreds of families each year and is poised to affect true reform in the child welfare system.
The Center envisions an Illinois child welfare system where families are respected, protected, and supported. The Center’s goal is for accused parents and caregivers to keep their children, whenever it is safe and possible for them to do so, and to clear their names.
Through legal assistance, impact litigation, policy advocacy, and collaborative partnerships, the Center advocates for the value that parents should not be punished for difficult life circumstances, such as poverty or being a victim of domestic violence, or for everyday parenting decisions when children are not at risk. Instead, child welfare policies and practices should be focused on helping children who are truly abused and neglected, and on strengthening families and communities.
In 2005, Diane L. Redleaf, a national leader in the field of parent representation in child welfare proceedings, founded The Family Defense Center with the help of colleagues who would become the organization’s founding Board of Directors, Rene Heybach, B.B. Carlson, and Anita Weinberg.
The Center began with its founder working in a small office in Chicago’s South Loop. In 2007, the organization received its first Cy Pres award and major grant, allowing the Center to hire two full-time staff attorneys and take over Dupuy v. Samuels as lead counsel, which brought due process to thousands of Illinois childcare workers. In 2008, the organization began its pro bono legal services program and filed its very first civil rights case.
Today, The Center:
– Provides legal services for thousands of parents and caregivers facing wrongful charges through our expert staff of attorneys;
– Advocates for thousands of Illinois families through civil rights and class action lawsuits that pursue reforms in DCFS policies and practices;
– Leverages millions of dollars of donated legal services through its award-winning pro bono program, which engaged more than 150 pro bono attorneys in 2016; and
– Co-leads an innovative project that places domestic violence professionals in DCFS investigative offices to collaborate and advocate for trauma-informed, supportive family interventions.