Judge Tosses Suit Challenging DCFS Ban on Supervised In-Person Visits During Pandemic

(Skitterphoto / Pixabay)(Skitterphoto / Pixabay)

A Cook County judge has rejected a push to overturn a temporary ban ordered by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services that has prevented children in foster care from having supervised visits with their parents and siblings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Chancery Court Judge Caroline Kate Moreland on Tuesday issued a three-page written order dismissing a lawsuit brought by Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli on behalf of four mothers who’ve had previously approved supervised visits with their children suspended.

Moreland made her ruling because there’s currently “another cause of action pending between the same parties for the same cause” in juvenile court.

“In this matter the court is mindful of the concerns for the Plaintiffs’ ability to have in person visitations with their children,” Moreland wrote in her order. “These parents are named parties with open pending abuse and/or neglect cases before the Child Custody Court. That court and those judges continue to address the very issues presented by this case. This court concludes that that forum is the appropriate one for plaintiffs’ grievances.”

Campanelli had filed suit against the DCFS and its acting director Marc Smith in Cook County’s chancery court. The DCFS has said the ban, which has been in place since March 25, was enacted due to the “extreme circumstances related to COVID-19.”

In a statement, Campanelli said she was disappointed by the ruling. She said she's weighing her options about a possible appeal, but plans to "continue to challenge this unjust policy."

"For the past two and a half months, parents, children, and siblings have been denied their right to see each other," Campanelli said. "To deny them visitation is to deny them basic human dignity and will have serious lasting impacts on families. This decision is contrary to the law and common sense."

Attorneys representing DCFS and the Cook County public guardian at a hearing last week accused the public defender of “forum shopping” and said the case should be tossed out due to the pending juvenile court cases. 

The agency said it needed to ensure that children and families are protected from the virus through social distancing and staff were instructed to identify “alternative ways” to hold these meetings via videoconference or phone.

The Shriver Center, a Chicago-based poverty and racial equity group, had spoken out against the ban, which it said “exacerbates the already disproportional impact and trauma caused by this pandemic on marginalized families.”

“Family visits are essential in this time of crisis,” the organization wrote in a statement following Moreland’s ruling Tuesday. “While we are disappointed that the Court missed the opportunity to honor families’ rights, we remain hopeful that DCFS will facilitate the return of family visits.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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