If you have received a recent letter from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) referring to a settlement in a class action lawsuit, Ashley M., et al. v. Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, et al., this information is for you.
The letter (a sample of which is posted here) was sent to notify you that your name has now been removed from the Illinois State Central Register as a perpetrator of neglect due to an “environment injurious.” Ashley M. is a Family Defense Center case and we advise and represent many individuals who, like Ashley, are wrongly accused of neglect. The information below provides general answers to Frequently Asked Questions that we have been asked by many people who have gotten these “Ashley M.” letters. The information provided in this FAQ is general information only and is not to be considered as legal advice in any individual case or legal matter.
1. How was I identified as a person who should receive this Notice?
DCFS is sending an identical form Ashley M. letter to each individual listed in the statewide database (also called the State Central Register) as having perpetrated child neglect in the form of “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious” who were either:
(a) investigated or indicated for neglect under Allegation 60 from July 13, 2012 through December 31, 2013; or
(b) were indicated for neglect under Allegation 60 from May 31, 2014 through June 11, 2014.
If you have received the Ashley M. letter, it is because DCFS’s records showed that DCFS had previously done a child neglect investigation and concluded that you neglected a child in some manner that fit within the DCFS administrative Rule defining an “environment injurious.” The “environment injurious” type of alleged child neglect is categorized as “Allegation #60” in the DCFS system. When DCFS decided that you had neglected a child in this way, it placed an “indicated” finding against you in the State Central Register. You should have been notified about this past decision to indicate you at the time the decision was originally made. Unless you were able to successfully appeal the “indicated” finding to have it removed, the “indicated” finding was scheduled to stay on the State Central Register for a period of five years.
Now, because of the settlement in the Ashley M. class action lawsuit, everyone who has an Allegation #60 finding registered against them in the State Central Register during the time periods listed above—with a couple of exceptions noted below—is now receiving a notice that their name has been removed, meaning you are no longer considered by Illinois to have neglected the child by causing an “environment injurious.”
The Family Defense Center does not vouch for the accuracy of DCFS’s lists but relies on DCFS to have made a correct determination to remove your name from the State Central Register as shown by the letter you received.
2. What is “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious?”
In its administrative Rules, DCFS has a system that categorizes allegations of child abuse or neglect into a variety of numbered “Allegations.” In 2001, DCFS adopted “Allegation #60” as one of its neglect allegations. DCFS defined this allegation as “placing a child in an environment that is injurious to the child’s health and welfare.” DCFS utilizes this allegation as a “catch-all” and applies it in situations where the circumstances do not meet the definition of any other defined “Allegation” (such as “#57 Fractures by Neglect” or “#74 Inadequate Supervision”). For example, people who have mental health diagnoses, who are victims of domestic violence, or who have a history of substance misuse may have been alleged to have neglected their child(ren) under the “environment injurious” label.
3. Why am I receiving this Notice now?
You can read more here about the history of Allegation #60 in Illinois, including the FDC’s successful Julie Q. v. DCFS litigation that led to the Ashley M. case.
4. Does this mean that my name is no longer listed as a “perpetrator” on the State Central Register?
If the only allegation DCFS has ever indicated against you was “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious,” and if the investigation or indicated finding for the allegation falls within the time periods described above, then your name should have been completely removed from the State Central Register.
If you want to confirm that your name is no longer on the registry at all (including for any other allegations besides Allegation #60), we recommend you send a letter to the following DCFS division, requesting documentation of any indicated findings associated with your name (this letter should include your full name and your date of birth):
DCFS State Central Register
406 East Monroe Street, Station #30
Springfield, Illinois 62701
5. I continue to have a case in juvenile court, so how does this affect my juvenile court case? Does it mean that my children will be returned to me if they are placed outside of my home and/or that my juvenile court case will be closed?
The settlement in Ashley M. affects only DCFS’s administrative determination of neglect due to an alleged “environment injurious” and has NO direct impact on any juvenile court proceedings. DCFS’s Reporting Act determinations are done under entirely different law than the set of laws that govern juvenile court proceedings. By statute, juvenile courts do have the authority to enter adjudicatory findings of neglect, and make child custody determinations, based upon the presence of an “injurious environment.” Therefore, even if DCFS is removing the administrative “indicated” finding of “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious” associated with your name on the State Central Register, this administrative action will not require an Illinois circuit court to reverse its own adjudications of “neglect, injurious environment” and will not, by itself, require an Illinois circuit court to restore custody of your children to you. We recommend, however, that you speak to your own counsel about whether the removal of the indicated finding against you by DCFS, pursuant to the Ashley M. letter you received, should be brought to the attention of the juvenile court in your specific case.
6. Why isn’t DCFS expunging other indicated findings pursuant to Ashley M. v. DCFS?
Other allegations and indicated findings were not at issue in the Ashley M. case. If DCFS “indicated” you for allegations in addition to “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious,” those allegations may still be registered against you. Allegations are registered for 5, 20 or 50 years. If the retention periods for other allegations have not expired, then those other indicated findings will remain on the State Central Register until their retention periods have passed.
7. What can I do if I still have questions about theAshley M. letter and/or I would like the Family Defense Center to consider providing assistance in my specific case?
If you still have questions about how the Ashley M. settlement might impact your case, you are free to contact our intake line and initiate the intake process (312-251-9800 x18) though please note that our ability to provide any assistance may be limited to providing some simple advice or information. We would greatly appreciate your reviewing this information carefully before you call us and if you have specific questions, we will do our best to answer your request. Please do be aware that thousands of individuals received Ashley M. letters and we are receiving many other individual requests for legal assistance so our ability to respond quickly to you may be limited by our available resources.
8. What if I am an attorney representing a client who has received thisAshley M. letter and I have questions about potential strategies or legal issues related to my client’s case?
If you are an attorney and you would like to further discuss the potential impact of the Ashley M. settlement, please feel free to contact our front desk (312-251-9800 x10), identify yourself as an attorney, and ask to speak with an attorney on our legal staff.
9. I’m very grateful that my name has been taken off the State Central Register. Is there anything I can do to thank the Family Defense Center or the lawyers who worked on theAshley M. case?
If you are grateful for the victory we achieved on behalf of thousands of persons just like you, we invite you to send us a letter as a person who has benefited from the ruling—we appreciate that support. In addition, as a not-for-profit legal advocacy organization that helps families in the child welfare system, we welcome contributions that are tax deductible to the extent authorized by law.