Ensuring kids in the state’s child welfare system can enjoy the most normal lives possible is the intent of a number of new laws and an Executive Order that were signed August 19 by Governor Bruce Rauner.
One new law sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno will make it easier for children who are wards of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to enjoy extracurricular and social activities many kids take for granted—like sleepovers, sports and trips to the zoo.
Previously, these children had to go through a long and cumbersome process to secure permission for these types of activities—and as a result they were often unable to participate. Under Radogno’s legislation, House Bill 5665, foster parents can grant children under their care permission to enjoy extracurricular, enrichment, cultural and social activities.
When Radogno’s legislation passed the Senate Human Services Committee in March, she was joined by Jeremy Harvey, a current DCFS employee that grew up in the foster system. Harvey advocated for the legislation and discussed how these restrictions impacted his life growing up.
“I missed out on sporting events because authorization from the Department couldn’t get done fast enough,” said Harvey. “It meant that I couldn’t go on my eighth grade trip to Washington, DC because I couldn’t get approval for out of state travel fast enough. These were things that were normal to me, being deprived of essential childhood experiences.”
Harvey’s experience is not uncommon to children under the state’s care. This desire for normalcy served as the basis for an Executive Order the Governor signed August 19 following a meeting with young people in the foster care system, who voiced their unease with the label “ward of the state.” “Ward” is widely viewed by these kids as particularly disparaging and becomes a dominant label for their legal status, distinguishing them from other children and youth.
The Executive Order signed by the Governor directs all references of “ward of the state” or “ward of the Department” within the child welfare system be changed to “youth in care.”
The Governor was joined by Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director George Sheldon at the signing, which took place in the Governor’s Tent at the Illinois State Fair.
“We have worked tirelessly to transform the relationship between youth in care and community to ensure they have the best possible chance at overcoming the circumstances they were born into. These bills are another big step towards breaking down barriers for our youth in care to help these passionate, loving and hardworking kids feel as normal as possible,” said Director Sheldon.
Over the last year and a half, the administration has worked on many initiatives to reform the DCFS system to better respond to the needs of youth in care and families in need. Along with the Executive Order, Governor Rauner signed four bills to further help DCFS, foster parents and youth in care address barriers for youth and allow for stronger bonds within their families and communities.
In addition to Radogno’s legislation, additional measures were signed August 19, including HB 5551 recognizes the important role of foster parents and expands the definition of “fictive kin” to include any individual who is the child’s foster parent.
HB 4641 and HB 4590 establish a stronger adoption approval process for families to ensure that our youth in care go to the very best and most supportive homes. HB 4641 amends the Child Care Act of 1969 to require approvals of adoption-only homes by licensed child welfare agencies. Under the new law, licensed child welfare agencies must thoroughly investigate and evaluate the criminal history of homes in which an adult resident has an arrest or conviction record. HB 4590 expands the list of disclosures in the Adoption Act to include the selection of an adoptive family.