Public Interest Law Initiative

Family Defense Center


70 E Lake St, Suite 1100
Chicago, IL 60601

Contact: Sara Gilloon



The Family Defense Center (“FDC “) is a first-of-its-kind legal advocacy organization focused on reform of child protection systems (e.g., the Department of Children and Family Services, juvenile court). Its mission is to advocate justice for families in the child welfare system. As a child protective services legal “watchdog” group that takes the goal of family preservation and family reunification seriously, FDC aims for fundamental changes in a massive system that often destroys families and hurts children more than it helps them. The FDC employs the strategies of litigation, policy advocacy, legal and policy research, training, public education and individualized advice and consultation with families involved in state, local or federal child protection systems (including child protection investigations, juvenile court actions, and child welfare service delivery systems), to prevent the unnecessary removal of children from their own homes and to facilitate the return of children to their homes whenever possible.

The following are our current advocacy programs:
(A) Affirmative civil rights litigation: We seek to vindicate the rights of families who have their children taken wrongfully or have been denied due process in pursued of their careers due to wrongful indicated findings. Law firms co-counsel these cases and have won awards for this important work.
(B) Pro bono program and individual case handling: advice, referrals, consultation and representation in all phases of DCFS investigations. The FDC represents individuals in the DCFS investigation stage ranging from brief advice and consultation, to full representation in lengthy trial-type expungement hearings and Administrative Review Actions. These cases are particular interesting for new lawyers and interns because they have quick time frames for completion and can provide full trials within a summer period. We work closely with participating major law firms in referring some of our low income clients to them for representation.
(C) The Parent Empowerment program: a grass-roots advocacy group, this includes parents who have been personally impacted by DCFS practices. Parents work on advocacy projects and are involved in speaking about their experiences to build public support for the reforms we advocate; program includes National Reunification Day program.
(D) Legislative Advocacy: We engage in advocacy for legislative and rule changes to child welfare laws and policies.
(E) The Family Defender Newsletter is a policy, research and advocacy tool, reporting on developments in the child welfare system affecting families, both positively and negatively, and includes advocacy information as well as policy positions of the organization
(F) Training programs, training materials, and self-help materials are in development. The FDC is working on manual on how families can respond most effectively to DCFS investigations and a manual on how to handle pro se expungement appeals.

PILI Fellows at the Family Defense Center are expected to: (a) handle initial client screening and follow-up; (b) investigate the merits of child protection cases; (c) work on one legislative initiative (d) draft and file motions; (d) conduct extensive legal research, including research in the areas of juvenile law, administrative law, civil procedure and constitutional law.; (e) if 711 certified, take a leading role at DCFS administrative hearings and on routine motion calls in court (arguing routine motions, second chairing substantive motions); (f) write at least one article for The Family Defender (see, press newsletter for examples; (g) participate in staff meetings and organizational events; and (h) support the mission of the Family Defense Center (advocating justice for families in the child welfare system) and contributing to the overall advocacy program of the FDC (by, for example, publicizing our programs to other law students, applying any special skills the intern/exten has to assist our program to flourish).

The Family Defense Center has a particular interest in and need for Fellows who are able to work in the Winter/Spring.

This agency is approved to host Graduate Fellows.

Stay Connected. Sign Up For Our Newsletter: