August 23, 2018. Here we go again! As reported in the Chicago Tribune yesterday, another family has been harassed by DCFS for the most reasonable action of letting their child be alone outside. Except this time the child wasn't even alone: the 8-year-old girl was accompanied in her walk around the block with her family dog. This all happened in the toney north shore suburb of Wilmette. DCFS bears the burden of proving that children are at risk of serious harm due to the blatant disregard of the any dangers of being alone or poorly supervised. That means, in practical terms a parent can't leave a child with a band of felons in a crack house or meth lab. It doesn't mean a child can't run an errand or walk to the park--even at an age younger than 8! There wasn't a hint of a suggestion of any such thing in this case. And once a case is cleared by the police, there isn't a good reason that DCFS needs to bother the family. The case simply should be closed-period. As Lenore Skenazy has reported, Wilmette has a crime rate of 1 crime per day and the police found no evidence of any crime on the specific block where the now-infamous dog walk occurred.
As usual, Lenore Skenazy was on it right away, and wrote about it for Reason.com (here). My comment, which she published in her excellent article, essentially, is, "How many lawsuits does it take to stop this sort of DCFS overreaching?" I initiated the class action that Family Defense Center, the agency I founded and led for 12 years to stop exactly this sort of abuse. That suit was just settled (Nicole P. v. DCFS), as discussed in the Tribune's article yesterday. But Nicole P. was only the latest in a series of cases I have worked on aimed at getting these practices to stop once and for all. Illinois law changed in 2012, following a big trip in one of our cases to the Illinois Supreme Court in a case called Julie Q., which should have made it clear that letting a child be outside to walk a dog isn't neglect. Under Illinois law, there needs to be "blatant disregard" of a parent's duty of care toward the child to find neglect and a serious risk of immediate harm that's obvious to the parent. If walking the dog meets that standard, every decent parent in Illinois turns out to be a serial child neglector. I will write a long list of things that aren't neglect in an upcoming blog.
It seems DCFS is incapable of getting the message, however, even when sued repeatedly to change is practices. That's a tragedy. Contrary to Neil Skene's comment to the Tribune, DCFS does not have to investigate every case! There is something called "screening" and it gets rid of the allegations to the Hotline that shouldn't even be assessed. In America today, there are 7.4 million children reported as possible abuse or neglect victims every yet, but over 40% of those calls, fortunately, are screened out. That's what Illinois needs to do a better job of... and we have to stop accepting the call of every busybody in American who has a "concern." For more on this see my TedX talk!