As Executive Director of The Family Defense Center, I commend the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune for taking a strong stance against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS’) policy to investigate all child deaths that might be related to “unsafe sleep” in the editorial “Infant death and DCFS: Is unsafe sleep abusive?” and encourage all of you to read it.
I appreciated the editorial’s emphasis on how investigations can re-traumatize families – investigations are invasive and especially distressing to parents who are grieving the loss of their child. At The Family Defense Center, we have seen cases where DCFS investigations of infant deaths result in the removal of the family’s other children even when they are not vulnerable to the same risk, further compounding the trauma families experience after an infant’s death. I also commend the editorial board for highlighting DCFS’ system-wide shortcomings, particularly the agency’s “inability to prioritize its caseload.” Precious public resources should be focused on helping children who are truly abused and neglected, and on strengthening families, instead of punishing loving parents who are distraught by the accidental death of their infant child.
The Family Defense Center agrees with the Chicago Tribune that investigators should not be spending resources on probing families who do not conform to DCFS’s preferred sleep practices, and recommends changing this punitive policy. Furthermore, we are concerned about the pattern of DCFS enacting policies off the books – like any other state agency policy, it should, at the very least, be subject to review by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
Cases like the one referenced in the editorial also remind us of the need for lawyers and advocates that specialize in DCFS cases. The Family Defense Center is the only nonprofit organization in the state that provides affordable legal advocacy for families in the child welfare system at the outset of an investigation, the point at which families need the most help navigating the complex DCFS bureaucracy. Given the complex and dynamic nature of child welfare policy, it is crucial for all parents to have access to attorneys that specialize in matters involving DCFS and pursue systemic changes that ensure a more just child welfare system for all Illinois families.
Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg