Two major bill proposals limit family separations under safety plans and reduce harm from unfair abuse or neglect labels.
In the 2014 legislative session, the Family Defense Center achieved four major successes: we secured passage of three pieces of legislation and we defeated an effort of the Cook County State’s Attorney that would have legislatively overturned our appellate victory in the Yohan. K case (which held that a constellation of injuries does not by itself constitute abuse – see Family Defender Issue 15). The first of the affirmative bills we drafted requires safety plans to be in writing and signed, stating the responsibilities of the parties. The second allows juvenile court to appoint parents to be the educational advocates for their children even if DCFS has temporary custody. The third creates a task force to make recommendations for restoration of the differential response program, which deflects cases from investigations and into services, but was abruptly ended in 2012 due to budget cuts.
The Center is now gearing up for an ambitious 2015 session. The Family Defense Center plans to work with the legislature this year to secure passage of two proposals: the Child Abuse Registry Accuracy and Fairness Act of 2015 (CARAF) and the Family Protection Act of 2015 (FPA). Each bill’s provisions, if passed and implemented, could substantially improve the child welfare system for parents and families across Illinois.
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.
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.
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
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.
In this article published in the special Pro Bono Week issue of the Chicago Bar Association Record (October 2011), Executive Director Diane Redleaf and Staff Attorney Melissa Staas discuss the importance of the FDC’s Pro Bono Program in helping us handle as many administrative cases (and help as many families) as possible: