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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Fifth Annual Benefit Honoring Anita Weinberg

Fifth Annual Benefit Honoring Anita Weinberg

On Sunday, September 22, 2013, at the MidAmerica Club in Chicago, the Family Defense Center honored Professor Anita Weinberg for her commitment to the welfare of children and the health of families through her work on countless major child welfare policy initiatives. Lifetime Achievement awards were given to Dr. Eugene Pergament and Rhoda Redleaf. Additional awards were given to Colleen Garlington of Kirkland & Ellis for her pro bono representation of mothers with mental health disabilities as well as to the Julie Q. pro bono legal team. Click to view pictures from the event as well as the event program booklet.

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Family Defender Issue 15: Summer 2013

Click here to read issue #15 in PDF (Summer 2013)

Special Double Issue: Medically-Complex Cases in the Child Welfare System

Features:

In re Yohan K.: Parents of Infant with Rare Medical Conditions Known to Mimic Signs of Abuse Exonerated by the Appellate Court of Illinois after Two-Year-Long Battle, page 1

Family Defense Briefs, page 2

National Reunification Day Gives Families A Chance to Tell Stories, Plant Seeds for Change, page 3

Julie Q. Scores Huge Win for Illinois Families, page 4

Family Defense Center Paper to Address Medical Ethical Issues in Child Abuse Pediatrics, page 6

Release of Information: Consent or Coercion?, page 9

The Family Defense Center and the Innocence Movement: A Natural Collaboration, page 10

Hon. Nancy C. Dreher Fund Supports Medically-Complex Case Advocacy and Research, page 11

Illinois Higher Courts Disallow Medical Opinion Hearsay and Prior Notes of Persons Not Testifying, page 16

My Son Needed Treatment and I Needed Answers, But Instead We Got Accusations and Threats from the Doctors and Hospital I Had Trusted, page 17

Our Lives and Our Beliefs In The Justice System–And in the Medical Care System–Were Shattered by a False Allegation By a Child Abuse Pediatrician, Page 19

Prima Facie Case of “Failure to Thrive” Ends in Exoneration for Mother, page 21

Can You Believe This?, page 21

Message from the Executive Director, page 24

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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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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