Young Mother’s Parental Rights Terminated for Smoking Marijuana

Family Defense Center asks Illinois Supreme Court to reverse decision, citing lack of evidence of harm, the shifting status of marijuana and gross racial disparities in child removal rates in Peoria

CHICAGO, August 4, 2016 – In a case that challenges racial disparities in the child welfare system, the Family Defense Center on Thursday filed a petition asking the Illinois Supreme Court to review a lower court decision to terminate all parental rights of a 23-year-old Peoria mother. The mother, who is biracial and identifies as lesbian, was found to be “unfit” and her rights to raise her 6-year-old son were terminated primarily because she used marijuana during a nine-month period in 2013 and 2014. Read more

Victorious settlement in Ashley M. v. DCFS secures class-wide relief for Illinois residents wrongly accused for ‘environment injurious’ and ensures long-lasting reform

By Melissa L. Staas

On January 9, 2015, the Circuit Court of Cook County approved and entered the final settlement reached between DCFS and the plaintiffs’ in the class action lawsuit Ashley M. v. DCFS, 2013 CH 20278, which challenged DCFS’s failure to adopt a lawful rule defining “environment injurious” (a.k.a. Allegation #60).  This settlement secures class-wide relief for Illinois residents. That relief includes expunging wrongly-indicated findings of “environment injurious” from DCFS’s State Central Register, issuing new procedures for investigating claims of “environment injurious,” and training DCFS staff on the new evidentiary requirements for indicating an allegation of “environment injurious.”

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Julie Q. Rule Changes: The Long Road to Ending the Overcharging “Environment Injurious” Neglect Claims

Dear Friends and Clients of the Family Defense Center:

June 11, 2014, was a wonderful day for the Family Defense Center and for tens of thousands of parents and caregivers in Illinois.  There were no parades, but there should have been.  That is because on June 11, 2014, a lawful rule finally went into effect that stops DCFS from claiming innocent parents—including those who are victims of domestic violence themselves or have mental health conditions they are treating—are guilty of child neglect.  Indeed now, for the first time, DCFS rules proclaim that being a victim of domestic violence is presumptively NOT child neglect.  In order to determine that any person has created an “environment injurious,” DCFS rules now require a more stringent showing that a parent or caregiver “blatantly disregarded” their duty of care towards the child by failing to exercise “reasonable precautionary measures.”   While this rule affects tens of thousands of Illinois families each year, the impact is especially significant for persons with mental health diagnoses, families with a family member with a substance abuse issue (including persons in recovery), and mothers who are domestic violence victims, for these are the individuals who so commonly were brought into the wide DCFS net under the old rule defining “environment injurious” in a matter that operated as an unlawful “catch all.”  (Please see Issue 15 and Issue 16 of The Family Defender for additional details on the Julie Q. and Ashley M. cases summarized here).

The rule that DCFS adopted is one the Family Defense Center had fought for long and hard.  In fact, the fight to secure exoneration for family members who were wrongly labeled child neglectors for creating a supposed “environment injurious” just because of who they are—and not because of anything neglectful they had done—started way back in April 2009, when a mother named Julie Q. sought our help. To us, it was clear that Julie had been unfairly targeted for child neglect when there was no case against her at all, just a lot of innuendo coming from an embittered ex-spouse.

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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

Features:

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

DCFS Notice Regarding Julie Q. v. DCFS – Frequently Asked Questions

If you have received a recent letter from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services referring to a recent decision from the Illinois Supreme Court named Julie Q. v. Ill. Dep’t of Children and Family Servs., this information is for you.   The letter (which we have explained here) was sent to notify you that your name has now been removed from the Illinois State Central Register because of the Illinois Supreme Court Decision that DCFS did not have the right to name you as a perpetrator of neglect due to an “environment injurious.” Julie Q. is a Family Defense Center case and we advise and represent many individuals who, like Julie Q., 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 “Julie Q.” 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.

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DCFS Notice Regarding Julie Q. Decision

You may have received the following letter from DCFS:

Scanned and Redacted Letter from DCFS re: Julie. Q.

Below, we have written the same letter into language we think is easier to understand:

IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE FROM DCFS: NOTICE OF FAVORABLE DECISION AFFECTING YOUR RIGHTS

Dear NAME:

You are receiving this notice because, according to our records, you had previously been investigated by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) after a Hotline call was made to DCFS prior to July 13, 2012. DCFS previously made a decision that you had neglected a child and it put your name into the State Central Register (or “indicated” you) as a person who was considered responsible for child neglect.   According to our records, you were indicated for DCFS Allegation #60: Environment Injurious to Health and Welfare.” You should have received notice of this indicated finding for this allegation at the time which included an explanation that your name would be placed on the State Central Register.

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Family Defense Center Wins High Court Victory Against DCFS ‘Environment-Injurious’ Rule

Illinois Supreme Court says DCFS exceeded legal authority by setting ‘its own’ criteria for child neglect

CHICAGO, March 25, 2013 – The Family Defense Center (FDC) announces a unanimous victory in the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled the state’s child welfare agency exceeded its authority when it adopted a broad rule to label thousands of parents guilty of child neglect. The General Assembly removed the “environment-injurious” clause from statute in 1980 on the grounds it was subject to “lots of misunderstandings.”  Advocates hail the decision as a breakthrough for wrongly accused parents, including domestic violence victims.

In Julie Q. v. DCFS, the Court rejected the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ defense because “environment-injurious” rule was not part of Illinois’ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act in 2009 when DCFS used it to indicate Ms. Q. for neglect. DCFS had received a hotline call from Julie Q.’s ex-husband as they were embroiled in a bitter custody battle. In its decision, the Court said DCFS exceeded its legal authority in labeling Ms. Q a child neglecter when the legislature had expressly removed the “environment-injurious” phrase from Illinois law. Read more

Julie Q. v. DCFS Supreme Court Decision

For nearly four years, the Family Defense Center, with outstanding assistance from six pro bono attorneys in our program including lead appellate counsel at Jenner & Block, has represented Julie Q. in a major challenge to DCFS’s continued reliance on a rule that defined persons as subject to indicated findings based on an “environment injurious.” We are delighted to report that the Supreme Court yesterday unanimously ruled in our client’s favor. In the interest of getting information out quickly to attorneys in our pro bono program and the Illinois attorney network who may have pending cases that raise the same issue as we argued on Julie Q.’s behalf, we are sending you this legal analysis which we invite you to use in order to secure expungement for any person with a currently pending case.

The Julie Q. Supreme Court decision can be accessed here.

Family Defense Center Analysis of the Illinois Supreme Court Ruling in Julie Q. v. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs.

In a unanimous decision issued on March 21, 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court  affirmed the decision of the Second District Appellate Court in Julie Q. v. DCFS, 2013 IL 113783, and reinforced the holding of that court that the “environment injurious” allegation, also known as “Allegation 60,” is void as a matter of law.  In 2001, DCFS promulgated Allegation 60 as a DCFS rule at 89 Ill. Admin. Code 300, Appendix B, under which it investigates and indicates allegations of “environment injurious.”  The holding of the Supreme Court determined that any indicated finding issued under this 2001 rule is unauthorized, void as a matter of law, and should be expunged.

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Attorneys Help Parents Keep Families Intact Amid Misplaced Child Abuse Allegations

The work of an FDC pro bono team at Sidley Austin LLP is highlighted in this article published in the Winter 2013 issue of the American Bar Association’s Litigation magazine:

Attorneys Help Parents Keep Families Intact Amid Misplaced Child Abuse Allegations