On May 6, 2017, The Family Defense Center’s Founder and Legal Director Diane Redleaf presented at TEDxUChicago. Her talk “When Can Parents Let Children Be Alone?” used the cases of Center client Natasha Felix and the Meitiv family to explain the flaws in existing child welfare laws that lead to misplaced charges of child neglect and a fear to let kids play alone.
“Does this policy distinguish between Natasha, the Meitivs, and a truly neglectful [parent]? If it doesn’t, it’s a bad policy,” Ms. Redleaf said.
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In the American Bar Association’s Children’s Rights Litigation journal, Family Defense Center staff attorney Melissa L. Staas demonstrates that, in light of new scientific evidence, the criminal justice system has shifted their handling of Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma cases, but child welfare lawyers and judges have not followed suit.
Given that the stakes in the child welfare system include the very real, irreversible, and sometimes permanent trauma that a misdiagnosis of SBS/AHT causes to children, legal professionals in the child welfare system should apply the same diligence and objectivity when confronted with an SBS/AHT case as has been modeled by innocence projects nationwide.
On January 9, 2015, the Circuit Court of Cook County approved and entered the final settlement reached between DCFS and the plaintiffs’ in the class action lawsuit Ashley M. v. DCFS, 2013 CH 20278, which challenged DCFS’s failure to adopt a lawful rule defining “environment injurious” (a.k.a. Allegation #60). This settlement secures class-wide relief for Illinois residents. That relief includes expunging wrongly-indicated findings of “environment injurious” from DCFS’s State Central Register, issuing new procedures for investigating claims of “environment injurious,” and training DCFS staff on the new evidentiary requirements for indicating an allegation of “environment injurious.”
This paper is the result of a two-year research and writing project conducted primarily by George Barry, with substantial revision, editing guidance, support and assistance from Diane Redleaf provided to make his research and commentary relevant to the experiences of Family Defense Center clients. We believe you will find the Paper provocative and informative. We hope this Paper will be an impetus for a dialogue about changes that with improve the ethical treatment of children and families who find themselves as targets of physical child abuse investigations.
Read Executive Director Diane Redleaf’s opinion piece published in the Chicago Sun-Times on November 24, 2013 discussing how improved policies and practices within the Department of Children and Family Services would allow investigators to focus precious resources on children who are truly at risk of abuse or neglect while still allowing suitable parents to raise their own children without undue intervention from the child welfare system.
In this article published in the special Pro Bono Week issue of the Chicago Bar Association Record (October 2011), Executive Director Diane Redleaf and Staff Attorney Melissa Staas discuss the importance of the FDC’s Pro Bono Program in helping us handle as many administrative cases (and help as many families) as possible: