They Took the Kids Last Night
How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk
by Diane L. Redleaf
November 2018, 271pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-6628-9
$55, £43, 48€, A76
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-6629-6
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Today’s “see something, say something” legal culture has led to wrongful prosecution of parents, while many actual cases of child abuse continue to go unreported.

This account of six families whose children were wrongly seized by child protection services vividly illustrates the constitutional balancing act where medicine, family interests, and child safety can clash.

They Took the Kids Last Night shows a rarely exposed side of America’s contemporary struggle to address child abuse, telling the stories of loving families who were almost destroyed by false allegations—readily accepted by caseworkers, doctors, the media, and, too often, the courts.

Each of the six wrongly accused families profiled in this book faced an epic and life-changing battle when child protection caseworkers came to their homes to take their kids. In each case, a child had an injury whose cause was unknown; it could have been due to an accident, a medical condition, or abuse. Each family ultimately exonerated itself and restored its family life, but still bears scars from the experience that will never disappear. The book tells why and how the child protection system failed these families. It also examines the larger flaws in our country’s child protection safety net that is supposed to sort out the innocent from the guilty in order to protect children.


  • Illustrates how the mantra "best interests of the child" masks errors, assumptions, and stereotypes that hide the real harm child protection policies are doing to children and families
  • Reveals how families are wrongly separated when overworked and underskilled caseworkers jump to conclusions of guilt, ignoring evidence of innocence
  • Focuses on the child protection system from the moment of intervention—starting with the child abuse hotline call that targets a specific child as a victim and his or her parents as suspects
  • Highlights the many decision points, attitudes, policies, and practices that operate to make even innocent parents vulnerable to having their children taken from them
  • Explains why basic due process principles ordered by federal and state courts would go a long way to help families, but cautions that just results depend on effective family defense counsel
Diane L. Redleaf has been a leading family defense attorney and policy advocate for over three decades. 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. She 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 led dozens of class action suits and appeals and 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. For more information, see and


"Redleaf’s work is a worthy resource for families going through child welfare intrusions, and for the lawyers, doctors, and counselors who would advocate for them."—Parental Rights Foundation, March 6, 2019

“The idea that you can bring your beloved child to the emergency room for a bump and find yourself accused of child abuse sounds like a bad dream. Terrifyingly, it’s real life for the stunned parents in this book—and the Atticus Finch who goes to bat for them: Diane L. Redleaf.”—Lenore Skenazy, President of Let Grow and founder of Free-Range Kids

“The United States practices child welfare like no other country in the world. In the name of child protection, it removes children from their families, temporarily and permanently, more than anywhere else on earth. Diane L. Redleaf, a pioneer defender of parents and families, reveals the many flaws in our system and makes important suggestions for change. Those who care about families and children should read this important book and heed her sensible proposals for change.”—Martin Guggenheim, Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law, New York University Law School

“Pioneering family defender Diane L. Redleaf tells gripping stories of clients caught up in the nightmare of America’s child welfare system—a system that unjustly tears families apart based on flawed evidence; race, class, and gender biases; and wrongheaded policies. Her spotlight on parents wrongfully accused of harming their children reveals a critical aspect of the trauma caused by an approach to child welfare centered on investigating the parents rather than supporting families. They Took the Kids Last Night is a shocking exposé of the inner workings of a damaging system and an urgent call for change.”—Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare

“In her gripping, urgently needed book, Diane L. Redleaf presents the child welfare system as it really works—not the Disney version presented by the people who run it. These are frontline dispatches from someone who has devoted her professional life to helping vulnerable children and families. As you read about the enormous harm done to children and families in these cases, remember, as Redleaf often reminds us, that these families actually suffered less than most. And this book reminds us of something else: though the system is most likely to attack those who are poor and nonwhite, it can come after anyone. The people who ‘took the kids last night’ could be back for yours tomorrow.”—Richard Wexler, Executive Director, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.
Accept All Cookies | Decline.