Childwelfare system has problems
It’s hard to imagine a more dysfunctional child welfare system than the one described in a federal lawsuit.
It is hard to imagine a more dysfunctional child welfare system than the one described in a federal lawsuit filed last week against the Illinois Department of Children Family Services, the Children’s Home + Aid and 10 child welfare workers.
Rochelle Vermeulen, 29, of Romeoville and the mother of 15- month old twins, is claiming workers at both agencies used coercion, intimidation, and threats to separate her from her toddlers despite her claims of being a domestic violence victim.
On Tuesday, the Family Defense Law Center will hold a news conference at 70 E. Lake St., to outline the stunning allegations.
“It’s hard to believe an organization that is supposed to be protecting children and families would behave this way, but it is not at all uncommon,” said Diane Redleaf, executive director of the Family Defense Center.
On Monday, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The Children’s Home + Aid did not respond to my inquiry about this lawsuit.
But the suit claims that Vermeulen fled her home Aug. 11 after a violent confrontation with her alleged batterer, and moved into her stepfather’s home in Romeoville.
Afterward, someone called the DCFS hotline alleging the home contained “mold.”
DCFS did not verify the presence of mold before a worker ordered Vermeulen to take the children to a homeless shelter, according to the suit.
Despite following her instructions, Vermeulen claims the worker removed her children and forced her to sign an “out- ofhome” safety plan.
The toddlers were then placed with the alleged abuser’s brother and sister- in- law.
“We’ve never seen a case where they told [ a mother] to go to a shelter with the kids and then refuse to help her get to the shelter, and then take the kids away,” Redleaf said.
According to the lawsuit, the physical abuse began in May after Vermeulen’s mother died suddenly. The alleged assaults included the batterer “choking [ Vermeulen], hitting her in the face, throwing her against the wall and body slamming her onto the top of a dog cage.”
Vermeulen decided to leave the relationship after she was allegedly attacked.
“It is the law under new rules that a person who is a victim of domestic violence should not be presumed to be a neglectful parent,” Redleaf said.
“Yet in this case the only basis for DCFS having any involvement in Rochelle’s life is the belief she should have behaved differently,” she said.
Vermeulen said she could not believe DCFS was investigating her.
“When the lady came to my door, I was dumbfounded. It was one of the biggest nightmares in my life besides losing my mother,” she told me.
“I couldn’t believe they didn’t care about me being abused and me trying to leave my abuser. [ One of the caseworkers] told me: ‘ You should have left him sooner.’ I believe they just basically took my abuser’s side,” the mother said.
According to the lawsuit, one caseworker
“It is hard to believe an organization that is supposed to be protecting children would behave this way, but it is not at all uncommon.’’
Diane Redleaf, executive director of the Family Defense Center
refused to consider Vermeulen’s grandmother’s home as a suitable placement, because she lived “too far away,” and no one was available to inspect it.
After legal counsel got involved, the child welfare agencies agreed to return the toddlers to Vermeulen on Oct. 1.
“She jumped through every hoop that they put in front of her, but [ the state] behaved toward the mother like she was an abusive parent. It is Domestic Violence Awareness this month, and this shows there is a lot of room for awareness,” Redleaf said.
People who care about child welfare should be watching this case. It could show us why the system is overdue for an overhaul.