E-Newsletter: February 2018

Our 2017 Annual Report is Out!

The Family Defense Center’s annual report is now available. The report outlines major achievements for 2017, including our legal services statistics for the year.

To view the full report and learn more about the Family Defense Center, click here.




The Family Defense Center Releases Report on Best Practices for Child Welfare Investigations Involving Parents with Mental Health Conditions

The Family Defense Center released a report that identifies best practices for conducting investigations where a parent or caregiver has a mental health condition or investigations where there is an alleged mental health condition. The report also makes recommendations for improved Illinois Department of Children and Family Services practices.

The report, which was developed in coordination with pro bono attorneys from one of the Center’s partner law firms, emphasizes the importance of assessing parents according to their individual strengths and weaknesses, and providing adequate accommodations for parents with mental health conditions, rather than relying on stereotypes that unfairly assume that parents with mental health conditions are unable to properly care for their children.

To view the full report, click here.

Illinois Parent Attorney Network Hosts Training on Appeals

On January 19, the Illinois Parent Attorney Network (IPAN) hosted a training on “Successfully Appealing Juvenile Court Abuse and Neglect Cases and Parental Terminations” at the Cook County Public Defender’s office. The training featured national experts Vivek Sankaran and Timothy Pinto of the University of Michigan Law School, and included discussions on how to structure effective legal arguments for child welfare appeals.

The IPAN is led by a steering committee of child welfare attorneys from across the state, and is facilitated by The Family Defense Center with a generous grant from the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts’ State Court Improvement Program.

To learn about how to become a member of IPAN, please email us.

Thank You, and Save the Date!

Over 100 people joined The Family Defense Center on January 12 at the CIBC Theatre to see the award-winning musical Hamilton. The Family Defense Center successfully raised $11,000 for the families that we serve. Thank you to our event sponsors: Meg McDonald, Kathleen Barry, and Kathleen McDonald, CLU, CFP.

Save the date for our annual Mother’s Day event, which is on May 10, at 4 p.m. at Baker McKenzie.


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!

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.

E-Newsletter: June 2017

Volunteer Spotlight: Attorney Chrystal Knight Goes “Above and Beyond”

Attorney Chrystal Knight

Chrystal Knight became licensed to practice law in 1990 and has focused much of her career on real estate law. In 2009, a private client with an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) allegation brought Chrystal into the world of child welfare. Distressed by what the agency was doing, supposedly “in the best interest of the child,” she began researching her client’s issue and found The Family Defense Center. After receiving information from the Center on how to handle the case, Chrystal vowed to volunteer. She took her first case through the Center representing a single mother battling depression in 2011 and, since then, has become a key attorney in the Center’s pro bono program.

Chrystal’s tireless commitment to justice was epitomized in a recent case for Keierra M., a young, single mother of four boys. Chrystal accepted Keierra’s case from the Center and began representing her in a DCFS administrative appeal. Keierra had been charged with child neglect after her youngest son, who has a genetic disorder, was failing to gain weight. This charge of neglect would lead to Keierra being listed on the State Central Register of child abuse and neglect for twenty years.

Keierra with two of her sons

At the same time as her child neglect case, Keierra was going through a forced eviction. Although eviction cases are outside the scope of work that the Center handles, Chrystal took it upon herself to represent Keierra in the eviction matter. Chrystal’s successful representation allowed Keierra to leave her former apartment without debt.

Keierra’s DCFS case was challenging due to a lack of child care, family support, and housing. Keierra and her sons struggled with homelessness and moved away from Chicago shortly before her DCFS hearing. The hearing was delayed on multiple occasions for several months due to those logistical difficulties. When it finally began, it did not conclude in one day, so a second day was scheduled two months later. Throughout Keierra’s ordeal, Chrystal was encouraging and remained at her side, working tirelessly to prepare for the hearings and line up key witnesses, even though so much time had passed.

“…She was an angel sent by God to help us,” Keierra said.

Finally, the case concluded after almost two years, with the judge ruling in Keierra’s favor. Keierra’s name was cleared and she was allowed a fresh start in her new city – all thanks to Chrystal!

“Ms. Chrystal went above and beyond to help me and my boys. She was very dedicated to helping me get my baby home and clearing my name…We love her and hope she never stops fighting for justice for the ‘little guys,’” Keierra said.

Our Bill for Innovative Pilot Project Passes the Illinois Legislature

Executive Director Rachel Ruttenberg and Representative Feigenholtz at the Illinois House Human Services Committee in May.

The Family Defense Center worked with Senator David Koehler and State Representative Sara Feigenholtz to pass Senate Bill 646 this spring.

This bill authorizes the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to implement a pilot for an innovative staffing model where domestic violence advocates, who are employed by agencies, are placed in DCFS investigative offices in order to collaborate and support DCFS interventions. This will lead to interventions that are strengths-based, trauma-informed, and family-centered.

The pilot is the product of collaboration with DCFS and the Domestic Violence Child Welfare Resource Coalition, which is led by The Family Defense Center, the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, and the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The coalition, which is made up of 30 domestic violence organizations and other non-profit agencies, makes recommendations for reforms based on best practice.

“As we know from our clients’ experiences, punitive and ineffective child welfare interventions do not cause long-term sustainable change or improvement for domestic violence survivors and their children, and act as a deterrent from reaching out to systems of support in the future,” said Executive Director Rachel Ruttenberg as she provided oral testimony to the Illinois House Human Services Committee in May.

SB 646 is now on its way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Thank you to our sponsors and partners. We are proud of this important legislation that will further our mission to defend families.

Spring Events Educate, Celebrate, and Inspire

Panelists Siobhan Murray, Maria G.,  Alyease Jones, and Kevin Jakopchek pictured with Staff Attorney and Pro Bono Coordinator Sara Gilloon at our Mother’s Day Tea. Photo by Tone Stockenstrom.

We celebrated Mother’s Day with our annual Mother’s Day Tea event, hosted by Jones Day, on May 10. Former clients and attorneys from our pro bono program, Alyease Jones of The Law Office of Alyease Jones, Siobhan Murray of Murray Law Group, and Kevin Jakopchek of Latham & Watkins LLP, shared their experiences and cases with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS). Alysia Tate of the Chicago Foundation for Women moderated the discussion. Thank you to all who joined us.

In early May, we stopped by McDermott, Will & Emery LLP with Donuts for Defense to thank the firm’s pro bono committee and lawyers for everything they do for The Family Defense Center and our families. Jones Day and Kirkland & Ellis LLP are also being recognized for their important pro bono contributions this year. Thank you to everyone who volunteers with us!

Families Organizing for Child Welfare Justice Executive Director Suzanne Sellers and Center Executive Director Rachel Ruttenberg with the panelists at National Reunification Day. Photo by Tone Stockenstrom.

On June 3, we celebrated National Reunification Day at an event organized by our friends at Families Organizing for Child Welfare Justice and co-sponsored by The Family Defense Center. Three women, who each had their own experiences with the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, told their powerful stories of being reunified with their children. Thank you to everyone who participated for your courage and interest in family reunifications.

On June 5, long-time supporter Joy Leibman hosted a lovely Supporter Recognition Reception for our friends in Minnesota. Thank you to everyone who came to celebrate and hear about The Family Defense Center’s latest endeavors.

Finally, save the date for Celebrating Justice for Families, The Family Defense Center’s Annual Benefit, on September 27!

Now’s the Time to Help More Parents like Agnes

The Center is in the middle of its spring fundraising campaign. The campaign, with the theme of making a gift in honor of a special mother, father, or caregiver, runs from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day.

This spring, we have featured our client Agnes. Agnes was charged with child neglect after she promptly sought treatment for her son who had accidentally burned himself. These charges would threaten her ability to work as a nursing assistant and would also negatively reflect on her as an immigration sponsor for her husband. Through the Center’s staunch advocacy, her name was cleared.

We ask for your support to continue serving parents like Agnes who need legal advocacy and representation to defend their families, protect their careers, and clear their names.

Please consider making a gift in honor of a special mother, father, or caregiver today.

E-Newsletter: November 2016

Family Defense Center Continues to Fight for Parents’ Right to Let Kids Play

New Rule and New Class Action Lawsuit Aim to Stop “Inadequate Supervision” Charges for Those who Make Reasonable Parenting Choices

bubblesOn September 29, 2016, at its annual benefit, the Family Defense Center celebrated its work on behalf of families who have faced child welfare interventions as a result of reasonable parenting decisions, including the decision to “Let Kids Play.” The focus of the benefit was on the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) Allegation 74, the rule that the agency uses to find parents or caregivers guilty of child neglect for “inadequate supervision,” which is often used as a catch-all to condemn parenting choices. The theme of this year’s benefit was especially timely, as September also brought two major developments in this work: a newly proposed rule and a class action lawsuit filed by the Center.

First, on September 16, DCFS issued a proposed new rule on “inadequate supervision,” in an effort to make the rule better conform to the state law governing child abuse and neglect investigations. Under the current, overbroad “inadequate supervision” or Allegation 74 rule, DCFS has been punishing parents for actions that Illinois law would not consider to be child neglect. This new rule is the culmination of nearly a year of negotiations between the Center and DCFS following Natasha Felix’s well-publicized appellate case challenging her child neglect indication for letting her children play in the park next door to her apartment. After a 2 year-long battle and a significant amount of publicity, DCFS finally agreed to clear Natasha’s name.

Since Natasha’s case, DCFS has continued to use the overbroad version of Allegation 74 against other parents and caregivers, keeping as many as 30,000 individuals on the child abuse and neglect register for it. While DCFS has sometimes dropped neglect findings for other clients of the Center, it has refused to stop its overuse of the current Allegation 74 and has even expanded that use for some categories of cases, such as cases involving children left in cars for very brief periods of time.

Therefore, on September 28, the Center joined 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 asks the court to order DCFS to stop using the current, unlawful Allegation 74 rule and to remove from the register the names of those people currently listed as child neglectors under that rule, and to only resume Allegation 74 investigations when the new lawful rule that was posted for public comment in September is formally adopted and implemented.

The class includes as many as 30,000 people, including everyone registered as a child neglector under Allegation 74 for the past five years, as well as anyone currently being investigated under the unlawful rule. This lawsuit comes from the Center representing dozens of individuals facing “inadequate supervision” claims over the last few years, including parents, foster parents, and residential care workers; now, we have the opportunity to focus attention on the unlawful policy and practice that authorized these investigations in the first place.

The stories of the named plaintiffs demonstrate how the current, unlawful Allegation 74 allows DCFS investigators to cast almost anything as child neglect. Nicole P. has been labeled neglectful under Allegation 74 for failing to stop her 5, 7, and 9 year old sons from fighting with each other. Deona W. is accused of failing to stop a child, who is not hers, from walking out of a home where she was staying as a temporary guest, while she was getting dressed upstairs.

The third named plaintiff, Brittaney S., has had two recent encounters with DCFS investigators under the guise of Allegation 74. The first of these encounters occurred when Brittaney left her children in a locked, air conditioned car for five minutes while she ran into a Jewel to pick up her son’s birthday cake. She had called in advance to make sure the cake was ready at the register and she was able to see the children the entire time. Despite this, Brittaney was investigated and labeled neglectful under Allegation 74.  After she appealed this first DCFS decision against her, DCFS counsel agreed to unfound it. But that didn’t stop DCFS from opening a new investigation when she gave birth to another child a few weeks earlier than expected. When Brittaney’s son was ready for discharge from the NICU, Brittaney, still recovering from the birth, hadn’t been able to purchase a new car seat for the infant. She told the hospital that she would have to pick up her son after her grandfather was able to buy the seat. The hospital called DCFS, which began a new Allegation 74 investigation into Brittaney. At the time she joined in filing the class action suit, the second investigation was still ongoing. However, since filing the lawsuit, Brittany S.’s investigation and Nicole P.’s finding were both unfounded.

DCFS rules must comply with the state statute that gives DCFS the authority to investigate child abuse and neglect, the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (ANCRA). When DCFS adopted the current Allegation 74 rule in 2001, ANCRA defined neglect as the “lack of necessary care,” meaning that a parent or caregiver who failed to provide a child with food, shelter, or medical care could be found to be neglectful. In 2012 – in the wake of an appellate court decision striking down a different DCFS rule in a case brought by the Center (Julie Q. v. DCFS) – the legislature revised ANCRA’s definition of neglected child to also include a child “who is subjected to an environment which is injurious insofar as (i) the child’s environment creates a likelihood of harm to the child’s health, physical well-being, or welfare and (ii) the likely harm to the child is the result of a blatant disregard” of parent or caretaker responsibilities. The current Allegation 74, however, reads that inadequate supervision occurs when “the 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, physical condition, and/or mental abilities would reasonably dictate.” This definition in rule is much broader than the statute’s definition of neglect, allowing DCFS to create its own standard that has not been authorized by the legislature or subject to public debate. In fact, the rule is so overbroad that one could argue that it includes the process of “growing up” as neglect; engaging in activities that are beyond children’s abilities is exactly how they learn and grow.

This recent class action lawsuit is not the first time that the Center has argued that Allegation 74 is unlawful. In fact, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Hall ruled in August of 2015, in the Center’s case Manier v. DCFS, that Allegation 74 is unlawful because it is beyond the scope of ANCRA. Manier also involved children who were playing outside, allegedly outside the line of sight of their parent. In both Felix and Manier, the parents could see their children in fact, but the evidence had not been properly considered by DCFS investigators and administrative law judges. Despite this previous ruling, DCFS has insisted it does not have to stop using the current Allegation 74.

Proceedings in the Nicole P. class action are now underway. Briefing on whether the plaintiffs can bring the case as a class action is occurring first, to be followed by briefing as to the plaintiffs’ entitlement to a preliminary injunction. It is anticipated that this briefing will conclude before the end of 2016.

In the meantime, the Center will continue to coordinate the representation of individuals facing Allegation 74 investigations and findings. Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of cases involving the current Allegation 74, the Center cannot individually represent each person; however, sample letters and motions are being made available for the many potential class members who seek the Center’s help.

Final Lawsuit to Challenge Old, Overbroad “Environment Injurious” Rule Settled and an Additional 1,000 Individuals Expunged

Wooden judges gavel on wooden table, close upAfter seven years, the Center is pleased to conclude its third and final legal challenge to the former Allegation 60 rule called “environment injurious.” On November 16, Judge Neil Cohen of the Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County gave final approval of a Settlement Agreement in the class action lawsuit Jessica R. et al v. DCFS, finding the terms of that agreement to be fair. The court’s final order will be entered next week and will result in the expungement from the State Central Register everyone who was “indicated” by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for this allegation between January 1, 2014, and May 31, 2014. It is estimated that 1,000 individuals will be expunged, which will bring the total number of expunged individuals from this group of lawsuits to more than 27,000.

Like Allegation 74, DCFS’s original Allegation 60 rule, which defined parents as neglectful when they created or allowed an “environment injurious” to their children, was a broad and vaguely defined rule that enabled DCFS to take actions that were not authorized by the state statute defining child neglect. Under the old Allegation 60, thousands of domestic violence victims and parents with mental health issues were labeled neglectful even when their children were never at risk of harm.

In Julie Q. v. DCFS, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the original Allegation 60 rule was not authorized by law. Following this clear ruling by the Supreme Court, DCFS expunged from the State Central Register indicated findings for Allegation 60 that were entered against anyone prior to July 13, 2012. After Julie Q., the Illinois legislature amended the Abused and Neglected Children Reporting Act (ANCRA) to change the definition of neglect to include circumstances where a child was at harm due to an “environment injurious.” The amended law also included important restrictions, however. In order to be guilty of neglect, a parent must “blatantly disregard” their duty of care to their child, resulting in a “real, significant, and imminent risk of harm” to the child.

Despite these changes to the statute, DCFS did not change its Allegation 60 rule to comply.

In the Ashley M. class action lawsuit, the Center challenged DCFS’ continued use of Allegation 60 despite the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that it was unlawful. In January 2015, DCFS agreed to settle Ashley M. by expunging the names of anyone listed on the State Central Register under Allegation 60 prior to December 31, 2013. The Ashley M. agreement expunged the names of over 7,000 parents and caregivers.

After the Center brought the Ashley M. class action, DCFS finally changed its unlawful rule. On January 1, 2014, DCFS introduced a new Allegation 60 rule which went into effect on June 11, 2014. However, while DCFS was waiting for its proposed new Allegation 60 rule to make its way through the rulemaking process, it also issued a so-called “emergency rule” that allowed investigations and neglect findings to proceed under an unlawful version of Allegation 60.

As an administrative agency, DCFS doesn’t have the power to unilaterally create new rules. Proposed rules must go through a rulemaking process that includes drafts and the opportunity for public feedback. Ultimately, any rule DCFS proposes has to be approved by the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR), which takes into consideration any public comments or opinions on the proposed new rule. According to the Center and pro bono attorneys at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, the supposed authority under which DCFS implemented this emergency rulemaking was not authorized by law. And, at the heart of the claims in the now-settled Jessica R. case, is the contention that DCFS cannot claim an emergency when officials waited nine months after the Illinois Supreme Court ruling, and nearly two years after an Illinois Appellate Court ruling, to take any corrective action.

There remains a small group of people whose cases will require individual attention. Under Jessica R., everyone indicated for the old Allegation 60 between January 1, 2014 and May 31, 2014 will have their names expunged; however, persons investigated during that time period, but indicated afterwards, are entitled to benefit from the class action, but must take individual action to have their case histories reviewed. (Please see the notice here.)

DCFS will be issuing letters notifying the Jessica R. class members of their expungement within 90 days.

Thank you to Steven Pick of LAF for representing Jessica and coordinating with the Center to make her a named plaintiff in Jessica R. Also, the Center wishes to thank all of the lawyers — who by now number over two dozen — and the many named clients who have stepped forward over the past seven years, helping us to achieve justice for over 27,000 people wrongly accused of child neglect whose cases will be expunged by 2017.

First Ever Toolkit for Domestic Violence Advocates

dv-toolkit-coverThe Family Defense Center proudly released a first ever toolkit for domestic violence service providers in October. This Toolkit was written by Domestic Violence Project Attorney Sara Block and funded by a Flom Incubator Grant from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.  This resource equips domestic violence service providers with the knowledge and strategies to effectively advocate on behalf of clients during child welfare investigations related to domestic violence. Armed with this toolkit, domestic violence service providers can help ensure that the child welfare intervention strengthens, rather than weakens, the non-offending caretaker’s ability to parent in safety and stability. We’re pleased to have published this important resource to further our mission to defend families.

Click here to view the Toolkit.

Let Kids Play Celebration Success
Tone Stockenström Photo, Inc

Board President Michael Weaver, Family Defender Kent Dean, and Executive Director Rachel Ruttenberg

We had another great benefit this year! Our Let Kids Play Celebration was on September 29. Thank you to our supporters for a wonderful evening recognizing the Center’s important work defending families against unfair charges of child neglect. Congratulations to our honorees: Kent Dean, Brian Beck, Natasha Felix, and our pro bono attorneys from Winston & Strawn LLP. Thank you to our event chairs, Kimball R. Anderson and Karen Gatsis Anderson, as well as our sponsors, donors, and volunteers. We look forward to another year of fighting for a fairer child welfare system.

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



Join Us for #GivingTuesday

save-the-date-givingtuesdayIn order to help more families in the upcoming year, the Center will be joining over 45,000 organizations worldwide on #GivingTuesday, November 29. #GivingTuesday is an annual international day of giving following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This kicks off for our holiday fundraising campaign which raises necessary funds so we may continue to tirelessly defend innocent families in 2017. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates throughout the day on November 29!

Family Defender Issue 17: Summer 2014

Click here to read issue #17 in PDF (Summer 2014)


Family Defense Center scores numerous policy victories in 2013-2014, page 1

Family Defense briefs, page 2

Federal court allows civil rights suit of Jeanelle H. first Family Defense Center suit to allege violations of teacher’s right to Dupuy protections to proceed towards trial, page 3

Family Defense Center’s Pro Bono Program scores another appellate victory in “inadequate supervision” case, page 4

Family Defense Center supports other advocates for parents by filing friend of the court briefs, page 6

Why the Family Defense Center is awarding top awards to a defense attorney and a scholar, page 8

Introducing Diane L. Redleaf, 2014 Alliance For Women Founder’s Award winner, page 9

Diane Redleaf’s acceptance speech, May 15, 2014, Alliance For Women Founder’s Award luncheon, page 10

Can You Believe This?, page 15

Family Defender Issue 16: Winter 2014

Click here to read issue #16 in PDF (winter 2014)

In This Issue: Focus on DCFS Overreaching (Part I) and New National Advocacy Project Expand’s Center’s Impact


Ashley M. v. DCFS: Class Action Lawsuit Seeks to End DCFS’s Continued Use of Allegation 60 “Enviroment Injurious” As a Basis for Finding Child Neglect, page 1

Family Defense Briefs, page 2

The Family Defense Center Promotes Affirmative Legislative Changes, page 3

Mother and Child File Civil Rights Suit Against DCFS Director Alleging Discrimination and Due Process Violations Related to Family Separation, Demand for Unneeded Psychiatric Hospitalization and Unauthorized Restrictions on Familial Rights, page 5

“Factitious Disorder By Proxy” Allegations: DCFS Investigators Diagnose and indicate Mothers Based on an Ambiguous and Highly Controversial Mental Illness, page 6

DCFS Oversimplifies and Over-reports “Failure to Thrive” Diagnoses, page 9

Anita Weinberg’s Acceptance Speech: On Accepting the Family Defender 2013 Award from the Family Defense Center, Chicago, Illinois, September 23, 2013, page 12

National Advocacy Project Expands Center’s Reach, page 16

Family Defense Center’s National Advocacy Project Takes on Pennsylvania Lawsuit, page 17

Can You Believe This?, page 19

Family Defender Issue 15: Summer 2013

Click here to read issue #15 in PDF (Summer 2013)

Special Double Issue: Medically-Complex Cases in the Child Welfare System


In re Yohan K.: Parents of Infant with Rare Medical Conditions Known to Mimic Signs of Abuse Exonerated by the Appellate Court of Illinois after Two-Year-Long Battle, page 1

Family Defense Briefs, page 2

National Reunification Day Gives Families A Chance to Tell Stories, Plant Seeds for Change, page 3

Julie Q. Scores Huge Win for Illinois Families, page 4

Family Defense Center Paper to Address Medical Ethical Issues in Child Abuse Pediatrics, page 6

Release of Information: Consent or Coercion?, page 9

The Family Defense Center and the Innocence Movement: A Natural Collaboration, page 10

Hon. Nancy C. Dreher Fund Supports Medically-Complex Case Advocacy and Research, page 11

Illinois Higher Courts Disallow Medical Opinion Hearsay and Prior Notes of Persons Not Testifying, page 16

My Son Needed Treatment and I Needed Answers, But Instead We Got Accusations and Threats from the Doctors and Hospital I Had Trusted, page 17

Our Lives and Our Beliefs In The Justice System–And in the Medical Care System–Were Shattered by a False Allegation By a Child Abuse Pediatrician, Page 19

Prima Facie Case of “Failure to Thrive” Ends in Exoneration for Mother, page 21

Can You Believe This?, page 21

Message from the Executive Director, page 24