A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

A single mother is raising four sons when her newborn stops gaining weight. She brings the child to the hospital for a diagnosis, but someone makes a call to the child abuse hotline. Later that night, she answers her door – and the nightmare begins.

Having to send your child away while the authorities investigate you is a mother’s worst nightmare. In this case, it was just the beginning, as the mother later discovered that she had been placed on a child abuse list that would restrict how she could earn a living or even participate in her sons’ activities. It took dedication and special experience to resolve these multiple issues.



Chrystal Knight

Chrystal Knight has been practicing in the areas of real estate and estate planning law since 1996. Chrystal believes that attorneys have an obligation to ensure that all people have access to legal representation and assistance. To that end, she establishes reasonable, flat fee rates and participates in programs to offer reduced cost or free legal assistance to those who are unable to afford representation. In May of 2011, Chrystal was honored as a Dekalb County Friend of the Court for assistance to drug/DUI court clients in conjunction with the DeKalb County Public Defender's office as a part of the DeKalb County Drug/DUI Court Program. In May of 2018, the Family Defense Center presented Chrystal with an award for Outstanding Pro Bono Attorney for her work with their pro bono clients in DCFS expungement appeal matters.

Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg

Rachel O’Konis Ruttenberg is currently the Director of Policy at Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, based in Chicago.

Previously, she was the Executive Director of a nonprofit called the Family Defense Center, a legal services and policy advocacy organization that serves families in the Illinois child welfare system. During her tenure, she built a collaborative approach to reform the child welfare system, at the same time maintaining the organization’s historic strength and expertise in litigation. In 2018, with the support of the Board of Directors, Rachel negotiated a merger for the organization with another local nonprofit organization. The combined organization, Ascend Justice, empowers individuals and families impacted by gender-based violence and the child welfare system to achieve safety and stability through holistic legal advocacy and systemic reform.

Before joining the Family Defense Center, Rachel was the Chicago Director of the Marilyn G. Rabb Foundation, an organization that provided after-school programs to high school students living in Chicago’s northwest and west side neighborhoods. She also previously served as Assistant Counsel to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, staffing the education committees, and spent six years in various roles at Chicago Public Schools, including as Special Assistant to the Chief Administrative Officer.

Ascend Justice

Our mission is to empower individuals and families impacted by gender-based violence or the child welfare system to achieve safety and stability through holistic legal advocacy and system reform.

We are working toward strong communities where people have the power to navigate fair systems and overcome violence.

Subscribe to Pursuing Justice: The Pro Bono Files

Subscribe and Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher