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

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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

“Parent Watching From Window Cited for ‘Inadequate Supervision'”

A Chicago mother let her three kids, ages 11, 9 and 5, play in a small park next to her Ukrainian Village apartment. She watched them from the window, but a passerby, seeing no parent, called child and family services, who then cited the mother for child neglect. Specifically it’s called “inadequate supervision.” That’s what happened to Natasha Felix two years ago, and she’s still dealing with the aftermath. And it’s a story that’s become all too familiar around the country when it comes to parents giving their kids a little space and responsibility. Chicago Tribune’s Bonnie Miller Rubin wrote about Felix’s story. She joins us with more on this case and what it says about parenting in the 21st century.

Click to listen to the full segment on WBEZ’s Morning Shift

“Chicago Mother Wages 2-Year Fight Against Child Neglect Citation”

Two years ago, Natasha Felix’s three children were outside playing at a playground next to her East Ukrainian Village apartment while she was at home.

She was checking on her sons — then ages 11, 9 and 5 — by looking out the window every 10 minutes, she said. But when a passer-by saw the Felix kids, along with a 9-year-old cousin, she assumed they were unsupervised and called the state’s Department of Children and Family Services hotline.

What one mother views as a benign activity, the state’s child protective agency sees much differently.

Click to read the full story on the Chicago Tribune