Response to Chicago Tribune Editorial on Unsafe Sleep

Dear Supporters,

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.

Sincerely,

Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg

Executive Director

November 2017 News

Meet Our Director of Legal Services

The Family Defense Center is delighted to announce Sara Gilloon, formerly a staff attorney with the Center, as its new Director of Legal Services, starting November 1, 2017. Read more…


Sara Block Receives Outstanding Partnership Award

The Family Defense Center’s Domestic Violence Project Attorney Sara Block was honored with an Outstanding Partnership Award at Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (CMBWN)’s “Together We Lead” Partnership Breakfast on October 25. Read more…


Young Professionals Board Hosts Panel at UChicago

On Thursday, October 26, the Young Professionals Boards of The Family Defense Center and LAF joined forces to present “The Intersection of Domestic Violence, Families, and the Law in Chicago.” Read more…


HAMILTON Tickets On Sale on November 2

For the first time ever, The Family Defense Center has partnered with Broadway in Chicago to offer a limited number of tickets to HAMILTON at the beautiful CIBC Theatre the evening of Friday, January 12, 2018. Purchase tickets tomorrow or become a sponsor today!


Save the Date for #GivingTuesday

Mark your calendars – Giving Tuesday is November 28! The Family Defense Center will be joining over 30,000 organizations in a global day of giving. GivingTuesday kicks off our holiday fundraising campaign. Read more…

E-Newsletter: November 2017

Meet Our Director of Legal Services

Director of Legal Services Sara Gilloon

The Family Defense Center is delighted to announce Sara Gilloon, formerly a staff attorney with the Center, as its new Director of Legal Services, starting today.

At the Center, Sara leads our legal services team in providing expert legal assistance to hundreds of families each year and coordinates our award-winning pro bono program. She has represented and advised parents and caregivers in all aspects of child welfare investigations and litigation. She also manages the Center’s civil rights and class action lawsuits, which impact thousands of Illinois families and affect reforms in child welfare policy and practices.  She has played a lead role in obtaining and enforcing significant policy improvements in several of the FDC’s most impactful federal civil rights cases. Sara is a fantastic manager and mentor, and she enjoys working with our entire staff, including law students who clerk with the Center.

Sara frequently represents the Center in the legal aid community both in Chicago and nationally. She has presented at the American Bar Association’s National Parent Attorney Conference and the Illinois Legal Aid Advocates Conference, frequently speaking on the topic of building and maintaining successful pro bono programs.  She was also selected to participate in the 2017 Family Defense Leadership Workshop at the University of Michigan Law School’s Child Advocacy Law Clinic, along with other up-and-coming leaders across the country in the field of child welfare advocacy.

Prior to joining the Family Defense Center, Sara was a litigation attorney at Winston & Strawn LLP in Chicago, where she did extensive pro bono work. Sara received her J.D., with high distinction, from the University of Iowa College of Law in 2008, where she earned membership in the Order of the Coif (awarded to the top 10% of the class) and served on the Journal of Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems.  She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish, summa cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame, where she was also inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.

Please help us congratulate Sara on her new leadership position!


Sara Block Receives Outstanding Partnership Award

Executive Director Rachel Ruttenberg and Domestic Violence Project Attorney Sara Block

The Family Defense Center’s Domestic Violence Project Attorney Sara Block was honored with an Outstanding Partnership Award at Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (CMBWN)’s “Together We Lead” Partnership Breakfast on October 25. The award focused on her work co-leading, with CMBWN, a coalition of domestic violence and child welfare agencies that advocated for and is implementing – in collaboration with DCFS and the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence – an innovative pilot project to improve DCFS interventions for families impacted by domestic violence.

Illinois has already enacted a model rule on child welfare, neglect, and domestic violence due to years of advocacy and litigation efforts by the Center; however, in practice, the implementation of this rule has not resulted in appropriate and effective interventions for families. As a result, survivors of domestic violence are still being punished with the possibility of losing their children, instead of being provided with adequate support services that allow them to rebuild their lives and care for their children in safety. DCFS recognizes the value of enlisting outside support to help front line staff better handle domestic violence-related cases, and is willing to do so as a partner in the project.

The innovative pilot project places domestic violence professionals in DCFS investigative offices to advise DCFS staff and advocate for trauma-informed, supportive family interventions. The pilot will launch in Lake County in early 2018.


Young Professionals Board Hosts Panel at UChicago

Attorneys Ashley Parr, Elise Tincher, Teresa Sullivan and Líadan Donnelly

On Thursday, October 26, the Young Professionals Boards of The Family Defense Center and LAF joined forces to present “The Intersection of Domestic Violence, Families, and the Law in Chicago,” a panel discussion that featured lawyers from both private law firms and legal aid organizations speaking on their experiences representing individuals and families impacted by domestic violence, in celebration of Pro Bono Week and in observation of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Over 40 University of Chicago students attended the panel discussion, which featured Ashley Parr of Barnes & Thornburg, Elise Tincher of Kirkland & Ellis, and Teresa Sullivan of LAF. Líadan Donnelly of The Family Defense Center moderated the discussion and provided background on how domestic violence survivors are often impacted by child welfare system involvement.


HAMILTON Tickets On Sale on November 2

For the first time ever, The Family Defense Center has partnered with Broadway in Chicago to offer a limited number of tickets to HAMILTON at the beautiful CIBC Theatre the evening of Friday, January 12, 2018. Tickets officially go on sale on November 2 at 9 a.m. CST – don’t miss your opportunity to enjoy an unforgettable evening watching the award-winning musical Hamilton while supporting Illinois families!

Sponsorship opportunities are also available! Get a package of tickets, with private suite service, and opportunities to highlight your business or firm.

Purchase tickets tomorrow or become a sponsor today!


Save the Date for #GivingTuesday

Mark your calendars – Giving Tuesday is November 28! The Family Defense Center will be joining over 30,000 organizations in a global day of giving. GivingTuesday kicks off our holiday fundraising campaign.

This year, everyone who gives at least $50 on GivingTuesday will be entered into a drawing to win two tickets to Hamilton in Chicago on January 12, 2018!

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates throughout the day!

HAMILTON

The Family Defense Center has partnered with Broadway in Chicago to offer a limited number of tickets to HAMILTON at the beautiful CIBC Theatre the evening of Friday, January 12, 2018!

Don’t miss your opportunity to enjoy an unforgettable evening watching the award-winning musical Hamilton while supporting Illinois families! Tickets go on sale on November 2, 2017 at 9:00 AM CST.

Online ticket sales have ended, but a few tickets are still available. Please contact Connie Prater at (312) 251-9800 x. 28 or at connie@familydefensecenter.org.

TICKET INFORMATION

Front Balcony

A clear view at an incredible show! Front Balcony tickets include center view seats in rows A-F of the Balcony level.

Front Mezzanine

Get the star treatment! Front Mezzanine tickets include center view seats in rows A-E of the Mezzanine level and suite service including appetizers and drinks, private bathrooms, and a private coat check.

SPONSOR THE EVENT

Presidential Level ($3,500)

Includes four front mezzanine tickets with included suite service, exclusive sponsorship signage in suite area, and recognition on The Family Defense Center’s digital marketing platforms.

Federalist Level ($1,200)

Includes two front mezzanine tickets with included suite service, and recognition on The Family Defense Center’s digital marketing platforms.

 

If you have any questions, please contact Connie Prater at (312) 251-9800 x. 28 or at connie@familydefensecenter.org.

SPONSORS (in formation)

Federalist Sponsors

Meg McDonald
Kathleen Barry
Kathleen McDonald, CLU, CFP

August 2017 News

Updates on Key Litigation

The Family Defense Center utilizes impact litigation, such as civil rights and class action lawsuits, in order to advocate justice for clients and pursue systemic reforms in child welfare law and policy in Illinois. Read more…


Don’t Miss This Year’s Benefit!

The Family Defense Center is delighted to announce its annual benefit, Celebrating Justice for Families, which will honor individuals and organizations that have demonstrated their dedication to justice for families in the child welfare system. This year’s event will take place on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at Maggiano’s Banquet Hall, and will feature an exclusive VIP reception before the program for those who purchase a VIP ticket. Purchase tickets or become a sponsor today!


Thank you Summer Staff; Welcome Connie

Over the summer, The Family Defense Center hosted one summer law clerk, Ryan Shellady, and one Public Interest Law Initiative fellow, Sarah Craig, as well as three interns, Simone Wallk, Amelia Urwin, and Andrea Mireles.

This summer, the Center also said goodbye to Samantha Tarlton, who returned to her home state of Indiana. Sam’s work as Development and Communications Associate was crucial to the organization’s continued health and success. We wish her all the best in her next endeavor! Finally, we are thrilled to welcome Connie Prater as our new Development and Communications Manager. Read more…

E-Newsletter: August 2017

Updates on Key Litigation

The Family Defense Center utilizes impact litigation, such as civil rights and class action lawsuits, in order to advocate justice for clients and pursue systemic reforms in child welfare law and policy in Illinois. Here are updates on two important impact litigation matters we have been working on.

Nicole P. et al v. DCFS et al

In September 2016, The Family Defense Center partnered with a team of pro bono attorneys from Jones Day to file a class action lawsuit, Nicole P. et al v. DCFS and Director George Sheldon. The lawsuit asked the court to order the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) to stop using the overly broad and vague Allegation 74 (Inadequate Supervision). A judge had already declared the rule invalid but DCFS continued to use it to investigative neglect cases and make findings that would be registered in the State’s child abuse register. A person could be charged with Allegation 74 any time a “child has been placed in a situation or circumstances that are likely to require judgment or actions greater than the child’s level of maturity…” The lawsuit also asked to expunge the people currently listed as child neglectors under the vague rule and to only resume Allegation 74 investigations when a new lawful rule is formally adopted. In February, the court granted class certification, allowing the suit to proceed as a class action. The lawsuit has the potential to affect as many as 30,000 people in Illinois.

The Center’s staff have spent the last several months in settlement negotiations with DCFS. In May of this year, DCFS replaced the rule with a new, lawful version that emphasizes that a person must have acted with “blatant disregard” of a “real, significant and imminent risk of harm” to the child instead of the overbroad language in the prior version of the rule. While a new rule is in place, DCFS has yet to fix its procedural instructions to staff. While the rule is an important first step, the continuing negotiations and implementation of consistent procedures are important remaining steps towards ensuring that DCFS can focus on responsible and appropriate interventions for the families who truly need them.

Kelly K. v. Walker et al

In May, the father of Kelly’s  children violently pushed her against a wall, brandished a gun, and fled with their daughter. Although Kelly was the victim of the attack, she was arrested because the father had falsely claimed that she pushed him as well. That same day, DCFS received a hotline call about Kelly’s two daughters. When she was ready for discharge from jail, a DCFS contract agency threatened Kelly that she could have no contact with her children, even by phone or text, until she signed a so-called “safety plan” – all without providing her the basis for the safety plan or the required explanation of her rights and responsibilities. Kelly was given no choice but to put her children with their paternal grandparents, effectively giving their father unlimited access but severely restricting her rights.

On June 22, the Center filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Chicago that holds DCFS accountable for its tendency to demand safety plans without regard to whether or not there is probable cause to believe a child was abused or neglected by the parent from whom the child is removed and without sufficiently dire circumstances to justify the separation of children from their parents without a court order.

DCFS’s actions in this case breach the 2016 agreement established during the settlement of a similar lawsuit filed in 2014 on behalf of another victim of domestic violence in A.B. et al v. Holliman et al. The settlement agreement that came out of that case requires DCFS to revise policies and procedures for the development of safety plans that ensure that: safety plans will only be developed if there exists evidence of an immediate, unmitigated safety threat to a child; parents are given notice of the basis for protective custody; and parents have access to information about their rights and responsibilities.


Don’t Miss This Year’s Benefit!

The Family Defense Center is delighted to announce its annual benefit, Celebrating Justice for Families, which will honor individuals and organizations that have demonstrated their dedication to justice for families in the child welfare system.

This year’s event will take place on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at Maggiano’s Banquet Hall, and will feature an exclusive VIP reception before the program for those who purchase a VIP ticket.

Join the Center for a wonderful night in support of a more just and fair child welfare system for all families.

Purchase tickets or become a sponsor today!


Thank you Summer Staff; Welcome Connie

Samantha Tarlton and Connie Prater on Samantha’s last day

Over the summer, The Family Defense Center hosted one summer law clerk, Ryan Shellady, and one Public Interest Law Initiative fellow, Sarah Craig, as well as three interns, Simone Wallk, Amelia Urwin, and Andrea Mireles.

Ryan and Sarah have helped the Center’s legal team by following up on cases, providing updates on the Center’s litigation efforts, preparing for hearings, and conducting research. Simone, Andrea and Amelia have been a huge help to the development team, particularly as the Center prepares for its upcoming annual benefit.

This summer, the Center also said goodbye to Samantha Tarlton, who returned to her home state of Indiana. Sam’s work as Development and Communications Associate was crucial to the organization’s continued health and success. We wish her all the best in her next endeavor!

Finally, we are thrilled to welcome Connie Prater as our new Development and Communications Manager. Connie is a graduate of the University of Chicago and comes to the Center with a background in grants management and development coordination. We are excited to have her on board to support The Family Defense Center’s sustainability and growth.

Legal Aid Committee Selected Highlights 2016

The Family Defense Center is proud to be featured in The Chicago Bar Association Legal Aid Committee Selected Highlights 2016 alongside the excellent work of our fellow legal aid organizations. Read about our 2016 successes: our collaborative work for domestic violence survivors (page 5); our fight for justice for parents and caregivers unlawfully charged with “inadequate supervision” (page 9); and our policy victories regarding so-called “safety plans” (page 18).

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL BOOKLET ON THE CHICAGO BAR FOUNDATION’S WEBSITE

Let Kids Play Celebration

lkpsmallerbanner

Thank you to our supporters for making our Let Kids Play Celebration a success! This year’s theme, “Let Kids Play,” was a celebration of the Center’s important work defending families against unfair charges of child neglect, such as a rule that is used to punish parents for making decisions like letting their children play at the park. These vague charges of neglect especially hurt poor families who are trying to provide a good life for their children.

If you couldn’t make it, you can still be a part of the celebration by donating now!

We look forward to another year of fighting for a fairer child welfare system. Read more

Mothers’ Defense Tea 2016

Mothers’ Defense Tea 2016

The Mothers’ Defense Tea was held on May 5, 2016, at Jenner & Block LLP in Chicago. Mary Mitchell, Chicago Sun-Times award-winning columnist, moderated a panel of mothers and their pro bono counsel. The program celebrate our successes in combating “gender plus” discrimination against mothers in the child welfare system.

Read more

Legal Aid Committee Selected Highlights 2015

The Chicago Bar Association’s Legal Aid Committee compiled highlights from its members for 2015. The Family Defense Center’s work on an emergency rule class action suit and client Natasha Felix’s case are featured on page 14 of the booklet. The Center’s report on “When Can Parents Let Children Be Alone?” and the vague category of neglect called “inadequate supervision” are highlighted on page 18.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL BOOKLET ON THE CHICAGO BAR FOUNDATION’S WEBSITE