What is your life’s purpose?
I have spent my life fighting for justice and fairness for families who are struggling to raise their children, stay together, and live their lives in system and a culture that value their fundamental rights.
How are you living your purpose?
I am a lawyer, founder of a legal services agency, and a non-profit leader. I founded the Family Defense Center in 2005 and I’ve been a founding board member or advisor to numerous other justice-focused non-profits. In these roles, I have been an advocate for policy change. Now, with the recent publication of my book, They Took the Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk (Praeger, November 2018), I am writing and speaking more than ever. I have focused my attention on the child welfare system in America, helping families who are confronting terrible threats to their ability to stay together. Often, family members are wrongly accused of actions they did not do or which should not be considered wrong at all—like letting children play outside without an adult always hovering. For the past nearly 35 years, I have been privileged to work with many lawyers and family advocates as part of a growing family defense movement in America.
How did you find your purpose?
As a young adult, my desire to change the world for the better was partly in tension with my philosophical/analytical bent; that tension got resolved when I decided to go to law school rather than philosophy graduate school. While I was in law school, my appetite for public interest/civil rights work was sustained by being selected for an extraordinary two-year trial practice seminar led by the legendary Tony Amsterdam. From law school, I did not take the customary major law firm route but instead chose a career in legal services for the poor. At the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, I had outstanding mentors and in 1984, I was able to convince the Executive Director to let me start a special project focusing on the rights of children and families in the child welfare system. I’ve been working ever since to change the system that too readily separates families and fails to support their basic needs.
The deeper story is that I realized that my two parents embody the different strands of my interests: My mother is a pioneering leader in the field of early childhood education and my dad has been a lifelong civil libertarian. I have taken these two strands and forged my own advocacy for a child welfare system that takes seriously the civil liberties of families.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
It’s important to find what you love doing and what you feel you are best at doing and figure out how the two mesh. I took my own analytical bent and love of writing and found issues in the world that called out to me for both understanding and solutions. If you are in a position where you see opportunities, follow them. And find good mentors along the way.
What resources do you recommend?
My best source of inspiration, self-understanding, and new direction in recent years has been the Center on Courage and Renewal and the writing of Parker Palmer, its founder, along with coaching by one of the Center’s leaders, Valerie Brown.
The Daily Calm (Tamara Levitt) has been very helpful for guided daily 10-minute meditations. These are excellent resources for reflective practices.
Connect with Diane Redleaf
Contact form: https://www.familydefenseconsulting.com/contact
Book: They Took the Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk
Websites : www.familydefenseconsulting.com and www.unitedfamilyadvocates.com.
For over three decades, Diane L. Redleaf has been a pioneering leader of family defense attorney and a passionate advocate for policies and practices that protect all families, including especially families of color, families living in poverty, and families in other underprivileged communities, from the massive system of wrongful state intervention that constitutes the child welfare system in America. Since she graduated from Stanford Law School in 1979, she has led dozens of successful class action suits, appeals, and policy reform initiatives on behalf of families, starting as a legal services attorney in Chicago and becoming a public interest/civil rights attorney leader. Ms. Redleaf has been called the “conscience of the child welfare system” by the very same agency director (Jess McDonald) she had sued.
Redleaf became a partner in the law firm Lehrer and Redleaf in 1996. From 2005 until 2017, she served as Executive Director and Legal Director of the Family Defense Center in Chicago, an agency she founded. In 2017, she expanded her national child welfare reform efforts through United Family Advocates, a national bipartisan child protection policy advocacy network that she initiated in the fall of 2016. Redleaf has taught at the University of Chicago Law School and Loyola Law School. She has won several awards for her precedent-setting work and leadership, including the Chicago Bar Association Alliance for Women’s Founder’s Award and the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from her alma mater, Carleton College.
Her first book, They Took the Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk recounts stories of families she has represented in her over-three-decades-long career as a family defender. The book was released on November 2, 2018.