In 2011, Lilia Gonzalez* nearly lost her three young children. She considered herself a loving, attentive mother, but one day she made a seemingly harmless mistake that turned into a two-year battle to convince the state of Illinois that she hadn’t — and wouldn’t — maliciously neglect her children.
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.