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

Illinois Supreme Court says agency exceeded its legal authority by setting its own criteria for child neglect

Mar 25, 2013, 11:00 ET from Family Defense Center

CHICAGO, March 25, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Family Defense Center 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.

In Julie Q. v. DCFS, the Court rejected the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services' defense of the "environment-injurious" rule, which was not part of Illinois' Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act in 2009 when DCFS used it to indicate Ms. Q. for neglect. The "environment-injurious" definition was removed from state statute by the General Assembly in 1980 on the grounds it was unclear. 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" language from Illinois law.

"When the legislature stated that it was removing the environment-injurious language 'until such time that we can arrive' at a clearer definition, it was referring to a time when it, the legislature, arrived at the definition. It was not granting DCFS the authority to create a definition of its own," the ruling states.

FDC attorneys and their client Julie Q. will discuss the ruling Monday, March 25, at 1 p.m. via teleconference. For dial-in information, email, or call Shawn Taylor at 312-371-6260.

DCFS had received a hotline call from Julie Q.'s ex-husband as they were embroiled in a bitter custody battle. She subsequently lost custody of her 9-year-old daughter to the father – without any evidence of harm to the child. An estimated 13,000 families a year have been affected by the "environment-injurious" rule, according to DCFS estimates.  Julie Q. turned to the Family Defense Center which successfully challenged the decision in the Illinois Appellate Court in 2011.  After the Center's appellate victory, DCFS appealed.

"DCFS was operating under an old, invalid rule that is void as a matter of law. This victory is a tribute to why the Family Defense Center was created – so that abuses of power can be legally challenged in support of loving families," said Diane Redleaf, FDC Executive Director.

The legislature re-inserted the term "environment-injurious" into the statute in 2012, but with much clearer, new limitations, she said.

FDC launched its Mother's Defense Project, in part, to challenge "environment-injurious" cases, which disproportionately impact women under what FDC considers "gender-plus discrimination." Advocates hail the decision as a breakthrough for wrongly accused parents, including domestic violence victims.

"There are a lot of things that need to be considered when you're trying to protect children. DCFS will have to be much more thoughtful about what 'injurious environment' means," said Vickie Smith, CEO and Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV). "I want to congratulate the Family Defense Center and its network of attorneys for their work."

SOURCE Family Defense Center