A Federal Judge Rules Families in Illinois Were Deprived of their rights under the Consitution


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March 15, 2005 — A federal judge ruled that Illinois families were deprived of their constitutional rights when state child welfare officials threatened to separate parents from their children during abuse investigations.

In a decision made public Monday, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer found “ample evidence” that families suffered emotional and psychological injuries because the separations lasted “for more than a brief or temporary period.”

The judge didn’t fault the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for erring on the side of caution in such cases, but she held that parents had a right to know the length of the expected separations and how to contest the restrictions.

In telephone interviews with the Tribune, families described being shocked, paranoid and frightened by the allegations that some thought would result in them losing their children. Parents felt that caseworkers assumed them to be guilty.

A father from Skokie spent almost a year away from his family, and the effects of the rift that developed between them remain years later.

“I don’t think it can ever be repaired. We are all broken up; we are not bonded the way that we used to be,” said the father, who requested that he only be identified by his first name, Patrick. “I cannot get over what they did to me. It devastated my whole entire life. I can never be the same again.”

The ruling shows the dilemma facing the oft-criticized DCFS in its charge to protect children from harm but also keep families together when possible.

At issue are safety plans, part of the wholesale reforms instituted by DCFS after the public uproar over the horrific 1993 death of 3-year- old Joseph Wallace, who was killed by his mentally-ill mother after he was returned to her by the state.

In her decision, Pallmeyer essentially held that DCFS had gone too far in protecting children and had eroded the constitutional rights of parents.

The safety plans are supposedly voluntary agreements by parents in most cases to leave their home indefinitely or stay under constant supervision after investigations into child abuse or neglect are launched, often based on tips to DCFS.

But most of the families who testified at a 22-day hearing in 2002 and 2003 said the investigators threatened to take away their children unless they agreed to the safety plans.

“When an investigator expressly or implicitly conveys that failure to accept a plan will result in the removal of the children for more than a brief or temporary period of time, it constitutes a threat sufficient to deem the family’s agreement coerced, and to implicate due process rights,” Pallmeyer wrote in the 59-page opinion.

“Significantly, [DCFS] has not identified a single family that, faced with such an express or implied threat of protective custody, chose to reject the plan,” the judge said.

Pallmeyer gave DCFS 60 days to develop “constitutionally adequate procedures” for families to contest the safety plans.

Diane Redleaf, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said about 10 families were involved in the court case, but that Pallmeyer’s decision would affect thousands of families who agree to safety plans each year.

“Instead of protecting children, the state is actually destroying families and hurting children,” Redleaf said.

Diane Jackson, a DCFS spokeswoman, said Pallmeyer’s review of safety plans was limited to 2002 and before and didn’t consider changes since then.

“We have definitely made changes,” said Jackson, declining to be more specific until DCFS can report to Pallmeyer.

No real due process

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Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris applauded Pallmeyer’s decision. “It’s abridging both the children’s and the parents’ rights to have that amorphous safety plan that could go on forever,” he said. “There is no real due process. There is no [procedure] to complain unless you have some money to hire a lawyer.”

This is the second significant ruling by Pallmeyer to go against DCFS stemming from the same lawsuit. In 2001, she found that DCFS investigators often made findings of child abuse on little evidence, unfairly blacklisting professionals accused of wrongdoing. The judge extended new protections to teachers, day-care providers, nannies, social workers and others who work directly with children. Those protections are intended to keep the falsely accused from losing their jobs.

As part of assessing whether a child is in danger, DCFS specialists determine whether one of 15 safety factors is present, including if a household member is violent or sexual abuse is suspected. For DCFS to determine a child to be unsafe requires the finding of only one safety factor, some of which require little or no evidence of risk of harm — a fact that drew the criticism of plaintiffs.

But Pallmeyer defended that practice, concluding that “it is not improper for DCFS to err on the side of caution given the significant state interest in protecting children from harm.”

But the plans can’t remain in place indefinitely, she held.

According to the decision, one day-care worker accused of improperly touching a child was forced out of his own home for nearly a year before a judge at an administrative hearing cleared him of the charges — based in part on information available early on.

Patrick, the father from Skokie, spent 11 months away from his three children and his wife, missing their birthdays and a wedding anniversary.

Even though the allegations concerned his workplace, a DCFS investigator threatened to put his children — a boy, then 10, and two girls, then 12 and 13 — in a foster home unless he moved out of their home, Patrick said Monday.

He went home, grabbed a few belongings and later moved in with his sister in Chicago.

“I was put out on the street,” said Patrick, crying. “I was just totally violated.”

It wasn’t until a month later that he was able to explain the circumstances to his children after the caseworker allowed a visit.

Heart-wrenching goodbyes

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Soon, the father was able to see his children at church and later had supervised visits. The goodbyes were heart-wrenching, Patrick recalled.

“I would have to come here after my wife got off work, and then I would have to leave,” the father said. “It was really emotional every time I left, every single night. And my kids didn’t understand why I had to leave. They were very confused and very hurt. They still are.”

At the time, his son was acting up at school. His daughters cried in class, their grades falling, he said.

After he was cleared of the allegations in December 2001, Patrick was unable to find a job in child care, despite about a decade of experience. The lengthy separation changed his relationship with his family, he said.

“I never got any type of apology, any type of thing to say your kids might be messed up, let us give you counseling,” Patrick said of DCFS.

In another case, James Redlin, a teacher, was accused by a passenger of inappropriately touching his son, Joey, then 6, who suffers from a mild form of autism, during a Metro train ride to the Field Museum in the summer of 2000.

Joey’s mother, Susan Redlin, said Monday that her husband was tickling their son, carrying the boy on his lap and holding him up to look out the window.

DCFS required that the father not act as an independent caretaker for his son until the case was resolved, effectively leaving the family “prisoners” in their own home, according to the court ruling.

Joey’s mother, responsible for supervising her son under the safety plan, has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. “My husband and son could not be out of my sight,” she said.

The husband was cleared of wrongdoing by September. Until then, father and son were forced to forgo trail hikes, carnival adventures, movie outings — and plans to teach Joey how to ride a bike.

“It made Jim awfully leery of being alone with Joey, even hugging him, even holding hands,” Susan Redlin said. “That was the worst. If I enjoy hugging my [son], am I a pervert?”

Just Sunday, Susan Redlin said, she was out with her son and was about to swat him jokingly on the rear when she stopped herself.

“I did not do that,” she said. “What if someone is watching?”

© 2005 by Ofelia Casillas and Matt O’Connor, staff reporters, the Chicago Tribune

Reproduced under the Fair Use exception of 17 USC § 107 for noncommercial, nonprofit, and educational use.

About yvonnemason

Background:  The eldest of five children, Yvonne was born May 17, 1951 in Atlanta, Georgia. Raised in East Point, Georgia, she moved to Jackson County, Ga. until 2006 then moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida where she currently makes her home.  Licensed bounty hunter for the state of Georgia. Education:  After a 34 year absence, returned to college in 2004. Graduated with honors in Criminal Justice with an Associate’s degree from Lanier Technical College in 2006. Awards:  Nominated for the prestigious GOAL award in 2005 which encompasses all of the technical colleges. This award is based not only on excellence in academics but also leadership, positive attitude and the willingness to excel in one’s major. Affiliations:  Beta Sigma Phi Sorority  Member of The Florida Writer’s Association – Group Leader for St Lucie County The Dream:  Since learning to write at the age of five, Yvonne has wanted to be an author. She wrote her first novel Stan’s Story beginning in 1974 and completed it in 2006. Publication seemed impossible as rejections grew to 10 years. Determined, she continued adding to the story until her dream came true in 2006. The Inspiration:  Yvonne’s brother Stan has been her inspiration and hero in every facet of her life. He was stricken with Encephalitis at the tender age of nine months. He has defied every roadblock placed in his way and has been the driving force in every one of her accomplishments. He is the one who taught her never to give up The Author: Yvonne is currently the author of several novels, including:  Stan’s Story- the true story of her brother’s accomplishments, it has been compared to the style of Capote, and is currently being rewritten with new information for re-release.  Tangled Minds - a riveting story about a young girl’s bad decision and how it taints everyone’s life around her yet still manages to show that hope is always possible. This novel has been compared to the writing of Steinbeck and is currently being written as a screenplay. This novel will be re-released by Kerlak Publishing in 2009  Brilliant Insanity – released by Kerlak Publishing October 2008  Silent Scream – Released by Lulu.com October 2008- Slated to be made into a movie Yvonne’s Philosophy in Life - “Pay it Forward”: “In this life we all have been helped by others to attain our dreams and goals. We cannot pay it back but what we can do is ‘pay it forward’. It is a simple
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2 Responses to A Federal Judge Rules Families in Illinois Were Deprived of their rights under the Consitution

  1. Michelle Goad says:

    There is no due process, although I was promised a parent advocate, I was never given one. Their excuse was simply that no one was hired. (No more was said) They can do whatever they want. I have been kept in the dark. CPS/DSS can get away with anything – hearsay, sins of omission, slanted and biased as well as subjective reports stand as if it is the gospel. I have a lawyer, but DSS has lied on the stand and gotten away with it. Make them correspond to you by email, or mail. Keep all communication in writing. Never talk to them on the phone or in person unless you have a witness. I made my sister my advocate. I am a good parent who has been abused by the system. I just got my handbook telling me my rights in January after it all began in Oct. I could go on but I’d like to keep it simple. Make everything written, get copies to your lawyer, advocate. Do not ever let them into your house. Never be alone with these people. They are not for you they are out to get you and will lie or do whatever they can – and they usually get away with it. Research your rights, stand guard. They will intimidate you. Keep your cool. It is a word game, perception game – it is not about truth. Beware!

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  2. http://www.klaceyjsmithscastle.com/ I feel the same way. What was so criminally done to my son and me has changed the two of us such that we will never be the same again, and it was my husband and his mother that conjured up the courts and CPS to do what they did. If you go to Klacey’s Blog on the above website, I have a running account over the years of some of the worst assaults against us, and these people have yet to be held accountable for their overt and intentional crimes to appease my ex, Kevin Ritlinger, and his mother just so that he would not have to pay me child support. At three and a half years old, having been told by my ex that I didn’t love him anymore and was going to go away and leave him, he couldn’t understand why, one day he was taken to daycare by me, and the very same day later in the afternoon his father came to pick him up and he could no longer come home with me. I had no notion of the initial change in custody until it was all said and done, and the basis for the change was as a result of the most heinous perjuries, fabrications, and twisted truths against me. Over the years, we have cried out to anyone and everyone who we thought could intervene and/or hold these monsters accountable, but, all too many times we are informed, “It’s not in our jurisdiction,” and we were turned away with nowhere else to go. My only recourse now is, I hope to attend UNC Chapel Hill Journalism program so that I can write, effectively, about such assaults on me and my family, and in that way I can expose each and everyone that played a criminal part in this scenario exposing each and every one of them such that their friends and family will not the dark side of each of them. Other than that, vengenance is left in fate, Karma, and the hands of the Lord.

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