Family Defense Center Hires its First Deputy Executive Director

Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg, a Chicago-Kent law grad, has worked extensively with organizations serving children and families

CHICAGO, April 7, 2015 – Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg, an attorney and communications professional with a track record working for organizations serving children and families, has been named Deputy Executive Director of the Family Defense Center. The Center is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization that works to make the child welfare system in Illinois more fair, defending family members who have been wrongly accused of abuse or neglect, and reuniting families.

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Ruttenberg has experience in managing programs and advocating for policies that improve the lives of children and families. Before coming to the Center, Ruttenberg directed youth programs for Chicago Public School students. She has served as an administrator for three Chicago schools chiefs, including Arne Duncan, and as assistant counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on matters related to education and children.

She has a law degree with a concentration in public interest law from Chicago-Kent College of Law; a master’s degree in integrated marketing and communications from Northwestern University; and a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Her hiring comes after a lengthy organizational assessment and national executive search led by the Morten Group on the Center’s behalf. Ruttenberg will oversee the daily operations of the Center, including development, communications, human resources and finance. She also will focus on board governance and creating a long-term sustainability and succession plan, as well as broadening the Center’s donor base to include corporations, additional grant support and major gifts.

“The Family Defense Center and its attorneys are fighting on behalf of innocent clients and influencing policy that affects thousands of families each year,” Ruttenberg said. “By having someone in leadership who can focus on the day-to-day operations, as well as create and implement a vision for the future, the Center’s attorneys can continue to focus on the important work of obtaining justice for wrongly accused parents.”

Ruttenberg officially joined the Center in March. The Center was founded in 2005 by Executive Director Diane Redleaf, who has been defending families in Illinois for over 35 years. The Center wins an average of over 80 percent of its cases, including numerous federal civil rights cases and state court appellate decisions. Earlier this year, the state clarified a policy that had been used for years to erroneously label parents as child abusers or neglectors, including victims of domestic violence. The change came as a direct result of a successful legal challenge by the Center before the Illinois Supreme Court.  To carry out its work, the Center partners with 15 major law firms and has gained an impressive national and statewide presence, garnering several awards for its work along the way.

“In our 10th year, I thought it was important to bring someone on board who can develop and carry out a long-term vision for the Center,” said Redleaf. “We’re the only non-governmentally funded organization of our kind in the country that focuses on helping families through systemic legal advocacy at the front end of the child welfare system. Sustainability is key to ensuring the child welfare system works in a way that protects families, not needlessly separates them. I’m happy to welcome someone with Rachel’s depth of experience and passion to the Center’s leadership.”

Redleaf adds that Ruttenberg has already started to build for the future success of the Center, taking the reins to plan the organization’s first golf outing, “Fairways for Families,” on June 1 and its 10th Anniversary Celebration on October 7. In a few short weeks, she has already raised the Center’s social media presence by more than 20 percent.

“Clearly, Rachel is the sort of leader who will help the Center succeed in its second decade and beyond,” Redleaf said.