Foster care in Illinois
HAS IT REALLY DECREASED
Foster Care Children In Illinois- Has It Really Decreased?
Foster care is the
temporary placement by the Department of children outside their homes due to abuse, neglect or dependency. Placing a
child in substitute care - a foster family home, group home or institution - is not intended as a permanent living arrangement
but to protect the child with the ultimate goal of returning the child home.
Substitute care placements are selected to provide secure, nurturing and homelike settings for children. When it is not
possible to return a child home safely, the Department seeks a new goal of adoption.
Substitute Care Services include Foster Family Care, Relative Care, Group Home or Institutional Care, Independent Living,
Protective Day Care, Homemakers, Counseling, Psychological Assessments of Children, Health Care, Crisis Intervention, Aid
for Pregnant or Parenting Teens, and Preparation of Youth for Independent Living. Services for special populations include
Unaccompanied Minor (refugee) Assistance and Wraparound Services for children returning from institutional placements to their
DCFS has taken steps to reduce the number of children who require substitute care. Through new early intervention services,
called Front End Redesign, families are given help immediately after their needs become apparent, even before a child abuse
or neglect investigation is completed. These services may help prevent the need for a child to be placed into substitute care.
In accordance with state and federal laws, an increased emphasis has been placed on early permanency that includes a child's
return home, adoption, or guardianship. At its height in Fiscal Year 1997, 51,331 Illinois children were living in substitute
care. Because of an increased emphasis on early intervention and permanency services such as adoption, that number has declined
to 19,297 children in April 2004.
Many kinds of children need foster homes. Teenagers, teenage moms and their babies, children with special medical or
behavioral needs, and sibling groups are just some of the children most in need of foster and adoptive parents.
Becoming a Foster Parent or Adoptive Parent
Anyone who desires to become a foster or adoptive parent can call 1-800-624-KIDS.
Your interest will result in a local DCFS or private child welfare agency representative contacting you about foster care.
A representative will then make an appointment to come to your home to help you decide if foster care or adoption is a good
plan for your family. The representative will also give you an application and a medical form to complete for each member
of your family. The law requires that a criminal background check be run on all applicants, therefore you will be fingerprinted.
In addition, references you provide will be contacted. While these checks are being run, you will attend training classes
to help prepare you for your future role as a foster or adoptive parent. The licensing and training process takes from two
to six months.
Children in Substitute Care 1985-present
in Substitute Care
February 2006 17,415
April 04 19, 297
REUNIFICATION PLANS: RECIPES FOR FAILURE
Kevin Norell is one of the newer foster care caseworkers in the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, hired to
satisfy child-welfare reform laws and the terms of a recent lawsuit settlement in Utah.
According to Norell, the state asks a lot of parents who want their children returned home. They have to find a job,
find housing, all of which can be "tough to do for anyone in Salt Lake County." Parents are ordered into therapy, parenting
classes, perhaps drug rehabilitation, and they have to find time to visit with their children.
"Even an organized parent might have trouble with all that. And many of these parents are anything but organized," says
The intent behind court ordered reunification plans may be admirable, but the reality appears to be that many plans are
designed for failure, according to the 1991-1992 San Diego Grand Jury:
Testimony was received regarding the hours of time which must be spent in order to comply with these
plans. Defense attorneys have testified that they have told clients that it is impossible for them to work and comply with
reunification. Judges and referees were observed, seemingly without thought, ordering parents into programs which require
more than 40 hours per week. Frequently, these parents have only public transportation. Obviously, there is no time to earn
a living or otherwise live a life. A parent often becomes a slave to the reunification plan.
On April 20, 1993, a Florida father entered into such a "performance agreement" with the Florida Department of Health
and Human Resources. The performance agreement, which is now referred to as a "case plan" pursuant to revisions in the Florida
statutes, required the father to perform nine tasks to be reunified with his child:
* (1) completion of an abuse counseling program and its recommendations;
* (2) completion of a psychological evaluation and its recommendations;
* (3) completion of a parenting program and demonstration of proficiency in parenting skills;
* (4) evaluation for anger management and follow recommendations;
* (5) evaluation for individual counseling and follow recommendations;
* (6) monthly contact with HRS;
* (7) follow reasonable requests and recommendations of the supervising counselor;
* (8) provide HRS a list of relatives, their addresses, and phone numbers; and
* (9) maintain adequate housing and demonstrate financial ability to provide for the child.
The father, through sheer determination, managed to comply with the provisions of the performance agreement. But was
HRS satisfied with the result?
On November 22, 1994, HRS filed a motion for change of goal, requesting that the father's rights regarding
the child be terminated because he had 'failed to benefit from services in a reasonable length of time.'
The lower court, on this basis, terminated the father's parental rights. The determined father appealed to the District
Court of Appeal. On March 22, 1996, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the lower court, holding that HRS had not
met its burden of proof. The case was remanded for further proceedings. By this time, the child had been in foster care for
In another recent case, HRS filed a petition to declare a child dependent, and to terminate the parental rights of the
mother. The lower court dismissed the petition, as it failed to allege any abuse or neglect.
The Court of Appeal ruled that abuse or neglect need not be alleged, and that the lower Court was in error holding that
it could not terminate parental rights on the ground that HRS had alleged only that the mother failed to comply substantially
with her performance agreements:
Florida Rule of Juvenile Procedure 8.500(b) provides that the only substantive allegation required
in a termination petition, aside from the parents' and child's identities, etc., is that 'the parents were offered a performance
agreement or permanent placement plan and did not substantially comply with it,' when required by law. The petitions conformed
with this requirement.
In most states, allegations of abuse or neglect are not necessary to remove a child, or to permanently sever parental
rights. In virtually every state, the laws have been constructed in such a way as to allow the removal of children on the
basis that they may be abused or neglected at some point in the future.
In the State of Montana, for example, temporary removal orders require the department only "to submit to the court facts
establishing a probable cause that a youth is abused or neglected or is in danger of being abused or neglected."
According to a recent judicial assessment of the Montana juvenile justice system, such treatment plans are often implemented
early during the proceedings, even though a child may not have been adjudicated "a youth in need of care."
"Adjudication provides the basis for state intervention in a family," reviewers note. "Therefore, enforcement of treatment
which is not required for the immediate protection of the child... is an inappropriate exercise of the state's power."
Citing state law, assessment reviewers explain the dire consequences of failure to complete the "treatment plan" constructed
by the department of social services:
the failure of a parent or guardian to participate in, comply with, in whole or in part, or to meet
the goals of the treatment plan is prima facie evidence that return of the child to the parent or guardian would be detrimental.
Incredibly, rulings like this can be found throughout the states.
In California, an often-applied ruling used to terminate the parental rights of parents who simply refuse to comply with
social worker demands that they attend "treatment" or "therapy" reads:
the failure of the parent or guardian to participate in any court-ordered treatment programs shall
constitute prima facie evidence that return [of the child] would be detrimental.
Hence, the refusal to participate in these programs will result in the permanent separation of a child from his parents--whether
or not any maltreatment had actually occurred.
In examining studies conducted by the American Humane Association during the mid-1980s, Dana Mack of the Institute for
American Values found that half of the families that child welfare agencies compelled to undergo therapeutic services for
child maltreatment never mistreated their children at all, and that many removals of children are capricious actions of "preventive
intervention," based on a caseworker's presumption that although abuse may not have occurred, it may at some time in the future.
Even for those parents who comply with the reunification terms, the state has another way of using these plans to terminate
The laws throughout the states are written in such a way that "failure to substantially comply with the terms of the
performance agreement," or "failure to derive benefit from the services provided by the Department" are reason enough to have
children permanently separated from their parents, once they have become dependents of the court.
In a recent Minnesota case, for example, the "disposition plan" for reunification included the following elements:
* (1) that appellants work with a housekeeper provided by the county to maintain the housekeeping
standard from week to week;
* (2) that appellants cooperate with an assessment and goals as determined by an in-home skills counselor,
to provide a safe, clean, and organized living environment for the family;
* (3) that prior to reunification, the home environment will have an adequate level of housekeeping,
as determined by the social worker and public health nurse;
* (4) that appellants keep all scheduled appointments with service providers or cancel and reschedule
appointments in a timely manner;
* (5) that appellants complete individual psychological and psychiatric evaluations and follow all
* (6) that appellants attend individual therapy to determine and address issues of depression, grief,
and loss, and other issues as may be recommended by the treating therapist;
* (7) that appellants cooperate and work with the assigned financial worker from the county and comply
with the budget or recommendations of the financial worker;
* (8) that appellants follow all recommendations of [the child's] treating physicians and keep all
appointments with the home health aide for the purpose of childcare, nutrition, and bathing; and
* (9) that appellants maintain a working telephone in the residence at all times.
The sad reality is that abuse or neglect need not be demonstrated. Simple failure to maintain a purely subjective housekeeping
standard, the missing of an appointment, failure to "adequately assimilate" budgeting skills, or the disconnection of a telephone
can result in the permanent separation of a child from his or her parents.
In most states, social workers have been granted the authority to construct these reunification plans at their sole discretion.
And, there is precious little oversight from the courts in the construction of these plans.
Montana reviewers found that most judges rarely issue orders or make recommendations addressing reunification or treatment
plans, finding also that: "Some judges assert that it is appropriate for the courts to defer to the department's expertise
in these matters because of the social workers' experience and education."
One judge reported that while he often orders parents to take parenting classes, he does not actually know what those
Hence, the construction of these plans is left to social workers who typically have precious little training, oversight
Worse, over half of counsel representing parents said that they seldom receive information from service providers or
the department regarding the availability of services. Reviewers determined that: "Parents' counsel are, therefore, unable
to to effectively challenge the appropriateness of a treatment plan."
Personal bias or prejudice often play a role in how these plans are constructed.
Veteran Juvenile Court Judge Judy Sheindlin recounts the story of one young couple named Robin and Tim. Robin had two
children before she met Tim. She also had a drug problem. City caseworkers stepped in and removed her three children when
the third was born with cocaine in her system.
Tim, who was separated from Robin, lived at home with his parents and his brother, all of whom were employed. Judge Sheindlin
describes the obstacles Tim had to face when he sought custody of his child:
First, he had to establish paternity, proving that he was the biological father of his child. Tim
did this. Next, the caseworkers told him that before he could even be considered for custody, he had to take parenting classes.
He had to provide the name of the person who would be caring for his child while he worked during the day. He had to establish
a permanent, independent residence. There was not a scintilla of evidence that he was an unfit parent, but these were the
rules that Tim had to follow. He met all of the conditions.
Meanwhile, Robin the drug addict had it easy. All she had to do was enroll herself in a drug treatment
program and get on welfare. That, my friends, was it.
When Judge Sheindlin asked the caseworker about this obvious gender disparity, her answer was simply: "Well, she's the
The San Diego Grand Jury confirmed that these plans are sometimes intentionally made impossible to prevent reunification:
Failure to comply with any element of a reunification plan is sufficient for termination of parental
rights. We have taken testimony from attorneys, court appointed therapists, and social workers, that some of these plans are
intentionally made impossible, particularly when infants or toddlers are involved.
Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey conducted an independent investigation of the San Diego Department of Social
Services. His report confirmed the San Diego Grand Jury findings, following on the heels of another stinging critique of the
system by the county's Juvenile Justice Commission.
The system is too demanding of the parents, distracting them from more important issues, he wrote. "Too many tasks or
unproductive requirements overwhelm parents and reduce the potential for priority behavioral change."
His report also indicated that foster parents may try to thwart reunification efforts. "A desire to take care of the
child on a permanent basis must not be permitted to work against the parent's goal" of reunification.
The Juvenile Justice Commission examined several troubling cases in which social workers sought to prevent reunification
of children with their parents. They found such cases in their representative sampling to be "numerous and diverse."
In one such case, a social worker threatened that a child would be removed from the mother's home if she allowed the
child to attend a scheduled birthday party with her father in a public place. She further advised the mother to move to another
part of the County, and keep her whereabouts unknown to the father.
In another case, a social worker sought to prevent the development of ties between a child and her maternal aunt, even
though the aunt was known to the worker as a licensed foster mother. The worker sought instead to maintain the child in a
foster home in which the foster parents had expressed a desire to adopt the child.
"The unwillingness of the Children's Services Bureau staff, from line to administrative, to listen to opposing views
to the point of being hostile and threatening has resulted in a backlash from the community, as well as tragic consequences
for families," the Commission found.
"Court time and real time are world's apart, so that while a case drags on from week to week and month to month, the
agony of separation continues," the Commission concluded. "While Court cases often require lengthy investigation and preparation
to ensure due process of law to all involved, it must never be forgotten that these cases are ultimately about living, breathing
The maximum basic monthly adoption assistance maintenance payment in Illinois is:
Look Who Gets Paid? Not the "True and Natural" Parents most certainly.
Children receive the rate they received in foster care or would have received if they had been in foster care
Adoption was created to provide homes for orphans. These by definition are children without parents. Car crashes, war,
natural disasters. It was never created to provide children to 'poor infertile couples'. When did the wires get crossed?
I guess when someone started making money. Children are not a commodity!!!! Get a puppy."
- An adoptee
"Follow the money" - Deep Throat
CHICAGO, March 17, 2005 - A report that examines the numbers,
characteristics, risk factors and experiences of youth
who run away
from substitute care in Illinois will be used to sharpen the focus on
existing programs to help runaways
and develop new approaches to
improve services for a smaller, older and more diverse population of
children in state
The report, "Youth Who Run Away from Substitute Care," was prepared
at the request of the Department of Children of
(DCFS) by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of
Chicago. It is the first in-depth
quantitative and qualitative
analysis of youth who run away from out-of-home care.
A roundtable panel gathered today at the Gleacher Center to react to
the report and discuss ways to improve outcomes
Moderated by Robin Robinson of WFLD-TV FOX 32 News, panelists
Mark Courtney, Director of Chapin Hall Center for Children
Robert Hargesheimer, Chicago Police Youth Commander
Harris, Cook County Public Guardian
Judge Curtis Heaston, Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Division of the
and Child Protection Department
Bryan Samuels, DCFS Director
Tara Turner, 20, mother of children ages 3 and 1-month
participant in Pathways Pregnant and Parenting program
Rick Velasquez, Executive Director of Youth Outreach Services,
DCFS Director Bryan Samuels said the report will guide the
development of new approaches designed specifically
for runaway youth
and is part of an ongoing effort to improve the quality of care the
department delivers to the lowest
number of children in 17 years.
DCFS is responsible for more than 18,000 children today, a steep
reduction from the
51,000 children in state care as recently as 1997
and the smallest population since 1988.
"Policy changes may have reduced the total number of children, but
that doesn't mean our job is easier. If anything,
our challenge is
more difficult as we adapt the agency's practices to respond to and
anticipate the needs of specific
segments of children, such as youth
who run away from the care we provide," said Director Samuels.
"We began a long-term process to adapt our policies and practices
because we recognized the DCFS population is smaller,
diverse than ever, stays in the system longer and presents more
complex demands that require us to do a
better job," he said. The
report analyzed existing data and included findings from interviews
with 42 youth who ran
away, as well as foster parents and child
welfare professionals. It does not include policy improvement
"We asked Chapin Hall not to make recommendations about what DCFS
should or should not do about runaways because we
want to talk
honestly and openly with the child welfare community about how to use
the report and where we go from here
to determine what we should do,"
said Director Samuels.
"Our goal is to have an effective response concerning kids who run
away. As part of an overall effort to serve kids
better, we're more
interested in reducing their time on the run and the possibility that
they will run again than simply
decreasing the number of kids who
run," he said.
However, he pointed out the number of missing youth in DCFS care
dropped 18 percent in the last year, to 266 in March,
2005 from 324
in March, 2004.
DCFS will use several key findings from the report to guide next
The likelihood of runaway is increasing, a trend "due almost entirely
to an increase in subsequent runs rather
than first runs," according
to the report.
There is a correlation between youth in multiple foster care
and runaways. According to the report, a youth in a second
placement is 80 percent more likely to run for the first time
youth in a first placement. Further, a youth with five placements is
two-and-a-half times more likely to run
as a child in first
African-American females are more likely to run away than other youth
who have run away once are more likely to run away again.
Youth with substance abuse problems and mental health diagnoses
at heightened risk of running away.
Placement type is a major factor in the likelihood of runaway, with
in foster home care less likely to run away than those in
residential care, and those living in the home of a relative
less likely to run.
DCFS has launched several initiatives in the past year under the
umbrella of a "Lifetime
Approach" to alter and strengthen the
direction of child welfare in Illinois:
Missing child unit: DCFS established a Child Location and Support
Unit for Missing Children in November, 2003 and
developed a computer
tracking system unique to Illinois. The National Center for Missing
and Exploited Children (NCMEC),
in partnership with DCFS, also
provided specialized training focused on documenting and locating
missing wards. As a
result over the last two years, the number of
youth on run has substantially been reduced and the length of time on
has also significantly decreased.
Law enforcement liaison: Roberta M. Bartik was recently appointed to
this newly created
position at DCFS that helps the Department with
issues involving police investigations related to runaways.
Stabilization: Targeted strategies to stabilize older youth
that have a pattern of multiple placements and run behavior.
Adolescent Foster Homes: Recruitment of new foster parents for
older youth during their transition to independence.
Performance Unit: Tracking youth during stays in
residential facilities to ensure progress and timely discharge to
Integrated Assessment: Conducting comprehensive clinical analysis of
each child when they enter care and developing
a service plan based
on the assessment
Enhanced Services for Shelter Care Clients: Maintaining a child's
origin when that child's placement is disputed and the
child is placed in shelter care in Chicago. Transportation services
central to this effort through a joint effort with Chicago Public
DCFS will use the report to identify who runs away from out-of-home
care, trends in running away over time, what happens
to youth when
they run away and specific areas where interventions may be targeted,
such as: the role of caseworkers,
importance of connections to
others, ties to family, need for normalcy, mental health and
substance abuse disorders,
interventions immediately after a first
run, and the relationship of race and gender to running away.
The report also identified three common themes behind the reasons
youth run away: staying connected with biological
out to caseworkers, caregivers and other professionals in an effort
to recreate family; and youths'
struggle for autonomy and drive for
"This is not a 'one-size-fits-all' problem," said Malia Arnett, CEO
of ChildLink, a Chicago-based organization that
200 youth ranging in age from birth to 21 years old.
"This report helps alter common assumptions about the runaway
population. As this report illustrates, most youth who
run away are
more dangerous to themselves than others."
Mark Courtney, director of Chapin Hall and co-principal investigator
for the study, said the report will help DCFS
and the child welfare
community to strengthen existing programs and develop new approaches
for the runaway population
"Our findings demonstrate the need to create opportunities for foster
youth to engage in constructive ways with their
peers, connect with
caring adults, and for child welfare authorities to treat any run as
a serious cause for concern,"
- 30 -
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services