In 2011, Lilia Gonzalez* nearly lost her three young children. She considered herself a loving, attentive mother, but one day she made a seemingly harmless mistake that turned into a two-year battle to convince the state of Illinois that she hadn’t — and wouldn’t — maliciously neglect her children.
In the past, National Reunification Day hosted by the Family Defense Center has served to celebrate family reunification and preservation in the face of adversity, especially from the child welfare system. We want to celebrate reunification and promote parents, family members, and those negatively affected by the system to become advocates for change. In keeping with this goal, we held a National Reunification Day program on June 7, 2014, at the Logan Square Library in Chicago. The program was as follows:
Welcome by Diane Redleaf, FDC Executive Director, Nationally Recognized Child and Family Advocate
MONOLOGUE PERFORMANCE: “My Life” by Suzanne Sellers
PARENT PANEL: The Journey to Becoming an Advocate
Michelle Weidner, Advocate on Medical Accountability
Suzanne Sellers, Advocate for Parental Rights
Kim Tice, Advocate for Incarcerated Mothers
BREAKOUT DISCUSSION GROUP: The Tools You Need for your Advocacy Journey
Closing Remarks by Angela Inzano, Staff Attorney/Policy Coordinator
Helping parents to utilize their stories and experiences in the child welfare system to affect change, the Parent Advocacy Network, led by Suzanne Sellers (pictured), was convened in the summer of 2014 with three workshops on writing, telling, and sharing their stories.
Meeting 1: June 17, 2014 from 6 to 7 p.m. – Parents were oriented through the process of writing their stories and how that process helps build strength for advocacy
Meeting 2: July 15, 2014 from 6 to 7 p.m. – Parents reconvened to share their story drafts and discuss revisions
Meeting 3: July 22, 2014 from 6 to 7 p.m. – Parents submitted their final drafts and discuss ways to use these written and spoken stories to effect change through publication, public speaking, meeting with legislators, and more.
The Pekin Times published a follow-up piece about former Family Defense Center clients, Michelle and David Weidner, who are now advocating to address policy flaws in DCFS that forced them to go through a long and painful investigation based on an erroneous medical diagnosis.