You could see the pain on the young mother’s face as she recalled what it felt like to be investigated by the state’s Department of Children and Family Services after reporting domestic violence.
“I realized I could lose my son,” she said, her voice choking back a sob, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Evie was one of two mothers who told their stories at a breakfast forum Thursday hosted by The Family Defense Center, an advocacy group for families in the child-welfare system.
It took a lot of courage for the young mother to stare out into a sea of strangers and talk about a subject often defined by stereotypes. After all, most of us assume that if DCFS is investigating a mother, there must be a good reason.
“At the time, I didn’t think it was something involving me,” Evie said. “I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say or do. The only thing I could do was cry.”
I‘m not using Evie’s last name because she is a domestic violence victim.
It is illogical that a victim of domestic violence would be the person under scrutiny by the child-welfare agency. But it took The Family Defense Center nearly five years of litigation before DCFS amended its rules on “environment injurious.”
In 2014, the agency established new rules stating that being a victim of domestic violence is presumptively not neglect.
“We are celebrating the one-year anniversary of a landmark rule, and it has yet to be fully implemented because [DCFS] hasn’t fully trained everybody or developed a procedure that actually implements that policy,” said Diane Redleaf, executive director of the advocacy group.
DCFS spokesman Andrew Flach said the policy changes were implemented as of April 8, 2015.
“As far as the training is concerned, we have 90 days from when it was implemented,” Flach told me. “The training will be completed in late May or June.”
Under the old rules, mothers like Evie were often caught in a Catch-22. If they reported violence, DCFS could charge them with neglect. If they didn’t, they were at risk of harm.
Another case involves a mother of four I’ll call Esther. She was devastated when DCFS contacted her after she called the police because of a domestic violence incident.
“I did not think I was the one being investigated,” she said. “I thought the aggressor was being investigated.”
Both women were indicated for child neglect.
With the help of The Family Defense Center and private lawyers participating in pro bono programs, Esther was able to get her case expunged.
And the case against Evie was dropped.
But the 60 days that it took for DCFS to investigate the mothers took an emotional toll.
“I felt a thorough investigation wasn’t done, and it was unfair for DCFS to indicate me for neglect without any evidence,” said Evie,who had her 2-1/2-year-old son with her at the breakfast.
“The ball was dropped somewhere,” she said.
The Family Defense Center is celebrating 10 years of doing courageous work on behalf of mothers like Evie and Esther.
If you would like further information or would like to donate to this cause, please contact the organization at www.familydefensecenter.net or (312) 251-9800.