Diane L. Redleaf is the founder and Legal Director of the Family Defense Center. A child and family advocate since she graduated from Stanford Law School in 1979, Ms. Redleaf has brought more than three dozen major systemic reform cases on behalf of families, has been involved in over 60 cases with published opinions, including a large number of precedential appellate decisions, has spearheaded major legislative and regulatory reforms in Illinois, and has represented parents in hundreds of juvenile court and administrative proceedings. Ms. Redleaf is widely considered a national leader in the field of parent representation in child welfare proceedings. She has served as the President of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform and sits on the Steering Committee of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law’s Parent Representation Project. She has taught child welfare law at the University of Chicago Law School and client counseling at the Loyola University School of Law.
Ms. Redleaf began her distinguished career at the 18th Street Office of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago (LAF). There, she started the Children’s Rights Project in 1984, where she remained a supervisory attorney until 1996. From 1991 to 1996, she was the Sidley & Austin Fellow at LAF, coordinating extensive pro bono work with Sidley & Austin attorneys. Faced in 1996 with severe congressional restrictions on the work legal services attorneys could perform for their clients, she formed, with LAF’s Litigation Director Robert Lehrer, a public interest law firm dedicated to continuing social policy and child welfare litigation (“Lehrer & Redleaf”), which she co-led for nine years. In August 2005, Ms. Redleaf opened the offices of the Family Defense Center, working 20% time as the Center’s sole attorney. In 2010, under Ms. Redleaf’s leadership, the Center won the first “Excellent Emerging Organization Award” from the Axelson Center on Nonprofit Management. The Center now has six attorneys on its full-time staff. Over 100 lawyers handling pro bono cases with the Center in 2016 alone, donating legal services valued at over $3 million.
A 2012 Chicago Tribune profile of Ms. Redleaf quoted the DCFS spokesperson as saying that, “we have a better, fairer child welfare system because of her advocacy.” She has received several prestigious awards, including the KLEO “Angel” Award in 2013, the Chicago Bar Foundation Alliance for Women’s Founders’ Award in 2014 which is given to accomplished women leaders for mentoring others, and in 2016, she was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award by her alma mater, Carleton College, on the occasion of her 40th college reunion.