June 30, 2014. The Family Defense Center has been busy this legislative session! We successfully passed two pieces of legislation, initiated a DCFS working group, and prevented a bill from passing that could have been extremely damaging for Illinois families. In our spare time, we supported a number of other bills and tracked any other legislation that may help, or harm, our clients.
The first bill that we successfully drafted, negotiated, and secured the passage of (and that has been sent to the Governor for signature at press time) was SB2909. We worked with lead sponsor Senator Julie Morrison to press for this bill addressing DCFS safety plans, oral or written directives that change the placement of a child. In the course of our work representing families, we have repeatedly encountered a host of problems with the implementation of safety plans. This new legislation is a step in the right direction, requiring that the plans be in writing, that each participant sign the plan and be given a copy, that the plan is approved by a DCFS supervisor, and that a copy of rights and responsibilities be given to the participants as well. This only scratches the surface of what we’d like to change about safety plans, but with the commitment of our sponsor, Senator Morrison, we look forward to building on this bill in the future.
The second bill that our office successfully passed (and is also on the Governor’s desk for signature) was SB2782. This legislation allows for parents of children with special education needs to be appointed as the child’s “educational surrogate” in Juvenile Court cases where the child is alleged to be a dependent minor through no fault of the parent, and it would be in the child’s best interests for the parent to continue making educational decisions. This is already permitted under federal law, meaning that this bill simply clarifies the judge’s discretion to make such an appointment which was not previously outlined in the Juvenile Court Act. Again, this is part of a much larger problem involving the way in which the State of Illinois addresses the needs of families where children cannot be adequately care for in their homes, an issue we hope to address in future legislation.
In response to a new report outlining the results of the two year differential response program implemented by DCFS, and since discontinued, DCFS and our office agreed to form a DCFS working group to investigate reinstating a differential response program. Our office will have a seat at the table, as will other interested organizations, and the group will evaluate and make recommendations about potential reimplementation of differential response which provides services, rather than investigating, families who qualify.
Lastly, our office, spearheaded by the indomitable Melissa Staas and with inspired assistance from Mary Broderick, prevented a bill introduced by the State’s Attorney’s office from getting out of committee and onto the Senate floor. The bill would have made the presence of a “constellation of injuries” prima facie evidence of child abuse in juvenile court, effectively overturning our precedential victory in In re Yohan K. (read more in Family Defender Newsletter Issue #15). In medically complex cases, this would shift the burden to the parents to prove that they did not abuse their child. Forcing families to prove their innocence is a grave miscarriage of justice and runs counter to the very tenets of our legal system. This harm was prevented by a coalition of doctors, attorneys, and affected parents that Melissa forged.
For more information about our policy initiatives, or to get involved, contact our Policy Project Coordinator, Angela Inzano (firstname.lastname@example.org).