In January of 2023, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was faced with a lawsuit accusing the agency of mistreating children in their care by having them sent to juvenile detention facilities. Sadly, these allegations are not the first leveled against the agency tasked with protecting foster children.
House Republicans have been leading the fight to reform this agency and to offer the necessary support to foster children and families for years. With the beginning of the 103rd General Assembly, House Republican Leader Tony McCombie rededicated caucus efforts to the work that needed to be done to protect children.
McCombie created the Sustaining & Protecting At-Risk Kids Working Group. The Working Group was designed to create legislation to address the issues that youth in care are facing. On May 4th, the working group presented their work product as a comprehensive list of bills that would positively impact foster children, families in-crisis, and DCFS case workers.
One of the bills highlighted on May 4th was filed by State Representative Tom Weber, chair of the Working Group. House Bill 3471 is also known as the AJ Freund Act, named to honor AJ Freund who tragically died following numerous complaints made to the agency regarding his well being. The Act allows law enforcement to conduct independent abuse or neglect investigations and requires DCFS to share their investigation reports with local County State’s Attorneys.
“Protecting vulnerable children should be a main priority in the Illinois General Assembly”, said Weber. “Protecting them is our most basic responsibility as a state, and I’ve spoken with many other legislators who agree. I firmly believe that the AJ Freund Act and the other legislation our working group has proposed will have a real impact on fixing DCFS and improving the lives of children in their care. I hope that we will start to advance these necessary reforms to ensure that every child in Illinois can live in a safe and loving home.”
Another member of the working group, State Representative Steve Reick, filed another five bills aimed at preventing children and families from falling through the cracks of DCFS. House Bill 2935 would require DCFS to adopt a caseload tracking system, which would lead to increased accountability on behalf of the agency. Another measure, House Bill 2937, would require DCFS to report to the General Assembly every year about their caseloads, appropriations, the ratio of active cases to personnel, and more.
When it comes to foster care reform, measures that improve the lives of children and families go beyond the safety nets needed to ensure a reliable and accountable agency. Other bills filed this term, such as House Bill 2995, aim to provide support in other ways.
House Bill 2995, filed by State Representative Jed Davis, would move up the timetable of the first payment made to foster families following a new placement, providing some relief to foster families.
“As a foster parent, I know that one of the main struggles other foster families face occurs when they welcome a new foster child into their home,” said Davis. “From diapers to clothes to car seats, purchases for new placements quickly add up and can become a massive out of pocket cost to foster parents. My legislation would simply move up the timetable for the first payment made to families, which would remove one of the barriers that many foster parents face. It’s these small changes that will go a long way in improving the day to day lives of foster families.”
Looking forward to the next Legislative Session, Republican lawmakers are hopeful for the prospect of change to the agency.
“I am very hopeful that we can make a real difference in the lives of foster children,” said Davis. “When it comes to reforming foster care, there is always work to be done. This is an issue that will continually evolve and require us to come back to the drawing board together, on both sides of the aisle, and, hopefully, come up with real solutions.”