Michelle Weidner (right), Executive Director of PACI, was honored for her child welfare reform advocacy in October at a nonprofit benefit in Chicago.  Also pictured are the award presenter, Suzanne Sellers (center) of Families Organizing for Child Welfare Justice, and co-honorary, Attorney Diane Redleaf (left) of the Family Defense Center.

Michelle Weidner (right), Executive Director of PACI, was honored for her child welfare reform advocacy in October at a nonprofit benefit in Chicago.  Also pictured are the award presenter, Suzanne Sellers (center) of Families Organizing for Child Welfare Justice, and co-honorary, Attorney Diane Redleaf (left) of the Family Defense Center.

PACI Recognized for Advocacy

Michelle Weidner, Executive Director of Pediatric Accountability in Central Illinois (PACI), was honored Thursday, October 27 for her child welfare reform advocacy. Suzanne Sellers, Founder and Executive Director of Families Organizing for Child Welfare Justice, presented Weidner the award at their annual benefit in Chicago. Also honored at the event was Attorney Diane Redleaf, Founder and Legal Director of the Family Defense Center. The keynote speaker was Angela Baron-Jeffrey, Director of the Center for Child Welfare and Education at Northern Illinois University.

PACI is a Peoria-based task force that seeks to protect children and families by bringing together Central Illinois attorneys, physicians, and social workers concerned about rising rates of wrongful allegations of child abuse. They advocate for greater medical accuracy in child abuse investigations and offer resources and referrals to families and attorneys, free of charge.   

“There have been an alarming number of wrongful allegation cases in Central Illinois due to medical misdiagnosis. There’s a broad range of genetic conditions, disease processes, and typical childhood injuries that can result in findings that mimic abuse. It’s essential that DCFS, police, and prosecutors begin to require an exhaustive diagnostic process before removing children from loving homes and pursuing charges,” says Weidner.

She adds, "No one is protected when innocent families are accused. In fact, wrongful allegations harm the very children the system was created to protect. Medically-based wrongful allegations delay treatment for real medical issues, divert limited child welfare resources away from actual cases of abuse, and damage the public's trust in the health care system, child welfare system, and justice system."

For Weidner, child welfare reform is personal. In 2010, she and her husband were wrongfully accused of child abuse based on a radiological error at the Children's Hospital of Illinois. A CT scan of her infant son's head showed a blurred line that was misdiagnosed as a fracture, when, in fact, it was merely the result of her child moving inside of the CT machine. After they were able to prove their innocence through additional testing and examination at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, she decided to put her Master of Public Administration to good use by establishing a task force to advocate for a more scientific approach to child abuse investigations.