“Stop-and-Frisk” for Caregivers: How Expanded Mandated Reporting Laws Hurt Families

Founder and Legal Director Diane Redleaf is featured alongside Center supporter Professor Dorothy Roberts in a Truthout article arguing against universal mandated reporting laws. These laws require everyone to report suspected child neglect or abuse instead of trained professionals. According to Prof. Roberts, author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare and a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, these laws exacerbate the “racial bias in child maltreatment reporting” and misdirect resources from children truly affected by maltreatment. The Center appreciates the work of Prof. Roberts towards a “radically transformed system based on supporting families rather than investigating parents.”


Founder and Legal Director Diane Redleaf Presents TEDx Talk, “When Can Parents Let Children Be Alone?”

Founder and Legal Director Diane Redleaf presented “When Can Parents Let Children Be Alone?” at TEDxUChicago 2017 in May. Diane discusses the cases of The Family Defense Center’s client Natasha Felix, a mother who let her children play in the park next door, and the Meitivs, a family who gained national attention after allowing their children to walk home from the park. These cases illustrate the flaws in existing child welfare laws that lead to misplaced charges of child neglect and a fear to let kids play alone.

While discussing these flawed policies, Diane asks, “Does this policy distinguish between Natasha, the Meitivs, and a truly neglectful [parent]? If it doesn’t, it’s a bad policy.”

Watch Diane’s TEDx Talk below to learn how we can move forward to let kids play!

The Center continues to advocate for the rights of families, and, if you would like to support this work, please donate here.

A Letter from Our Executive Director

June 2, 2017

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Every day we provide much-needed legal representation and advocacy for parents and caregivers who have become involved in the Illinois child welfare system, a system that we know is fraught with conflict over how best to serve and protect children and is in desperate need of reform.

The past few weeks have been tumultuous ones for the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS). Recent stories of tragic child deaths from the last few years have sparked inquiries into DCFS policies and investigators’ practices by the media and by the DCFS Office of Inspector General. This week, DCFS Director George Sheldon resigned.

In our role as an independent non-profit organization that works exclusively on DCFS matters, we unfortunately have a unique vantage point on the systemic failures. The fact that there have been nine DCFS agency directors in the last seven years makes reform difficult. The reality of trying to improve the system at a time when our state has not had a budget in almost two years makes reform feel impossible.

However, our organization exists in order to hold this system accountable and, at the same time, shape policy in a way that protects children by defending families who need help. While the State of Illinois and DCFS leaders are considering how to move forward, we will continue advocating for families, and working to keep them safe and strong. At the same time, we will continue pushing reform in any way that we can.

We have a vision of a state where the rights of families are respected, protected, and supported by a system that is just and fair, and everything we do here at The Family Defense Center is with that in mind.

Thank you for supporting the important work we do for Illinois families, which is needed now more than ever.


Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg
Executive Director

Can the Child Welfare System Handle Trans Children? Part 1

The Windy City Times​ wrote a three-part series about the child welfare system and its involvement with families with transgender youth. In the first of the series, Executive Director Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg​ was quoted saying, “We always want to make sure that people’s Constitutional rights are being upheld, that decisions are not being made with discrimination as part of that process and that children are given the opportunity to remain with their parents or family caregivers whenever it is safe and possible for them to do so.”


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).