244 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 37:2 2017]
violence, despite that they should be presumed not neglectful.75 And while the Family Defense
Center continues to fight for these clients as the cases arise, the Ashley M. settlement was a victory
for families because it expunged at least 3,000 indicated findings from the state central register,
meaning 3,000 wrongful indications of neglect were removed from people’s records.76
IV. SAFETY PLAN ILLINOIS IMPACT LITIGATION
Another DCFS practice the Family Defense Center combatted with impact litigation was
safety plans. In 20176, the Family Defense Center settled a series of suits against DCFS
challenging the incorrected implementation of safety plans in a way that harmed children.77 Safety
plans are a tool DCFS uses during investigations of child abuse and neglect where an investigator
removes the children from the home of their guardian, and typically to place them with a relative
or friend when the investigator deems there to be an immediate and imminent threat of harm to the
child.78 Frequently, although safety plans are meant to be only a few days long, they often last
longer and throughout the duration of the safety plan communication between the parent and the
child is at least restricted, if not completely halted.79 The measure is meant to be voluntary for
parents, but parents are often coerced into signing the plans to avoid a consequence threatened by
the investigator.80 If the parent does not consent to the safety plan, the investigator still may
remove the child by taking protective custody, and while this is a more involved process than just
requiring a parent signature on the safety plan, it is more permanent than a safety plan.81 While
safety plans can be beneficial, when implemented unjustly they only end up hurting the children
DCFS is meant to protect. The Family Defense Center challenged these incorrect
The first of the safety plan suits that the Family Defense Center brought was L.W. v.
Simpson, a federal civil rights case that alleged the practice of inquiring into a parent’s mental
health status during the investigation was discrimination and a violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act. In the underlying facts of this case, DCFS was investigating L.W.’s mother after
a call was made to the child abuse and neglect hotline stating she was a paranoid schizophrenic,
76 Staas, supra note 74.; Diane Redleaf & Sara Gilloon, Family Defense Center Files Civil Rights Suit on Behalf of
Violence Victim and Her Children, Case Exposes Illegal Policy Practices of DCFS, 18 FAM. DEFENDER 2015,
http://www.familydefensecenter.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/familyDefenderIssue18.pdf (last visited June 1,
77 2016 Safety Plan Settlements, FAM. DEFENSE CTR., http://www.familydefensecenter.net/fdc-cases/2016-safety-
plan-settlements (last visited June 1, 2017) [hereinafter 2016 Settlements].
78 Understanding and Responding to Department of Children and Family Services’ Abuse and Neglect
Investigations in Illinois, FAM. DEFENSE CTR. (April 2016), http://www.familydefensecenter.net/wp-
content/uploads/2016/04/Responding-to-Investigations-Manual-FINAL.pdf.; Safety Plan Rights and Responsibilities
for Parents, DCFS, https://www.illinois.gov/dcfs/aboutus/notices/Documents/CFS_1441-
D_Safety_Plan_Rights_and_Responsibilities_for_Parents_and_Guardians.pdf (last visited June 1, 2017) [hereinafter
Rights and Responsibilities]; Hernandez v. Foster, 657 F.3d 463, 474-475 (7th Cir. 2011).
79 2016 Settlements, supra note 77.
80 See Hernandez, 657 F.3d 463. 7th Circuit Appellate Court denounced coercion practices for safety plans, reversing
an earlier decision, Dupuy II v. Samuels, which claimed coercive safety plans were acceptable because they still
gave the parent the choice. Id.
81 Rights and Responsibilities, supra note 78.