DECATUR — When it comes to the number of children taken into protective custody by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Macon County has ranked among the top three counties since 2008.
Ranking with Decatur in the top three are counties that include Rockford and Peoria.
That’s why Robert Blackwell, racial equity practice liaison for the department, was happy to help kick off an open house Monday at the state’s newest family advocacy center in the Old King’s Orchard Neighborhood.
Blackwell said when parents become involved in the state’s child welfare system, contact with caseworkers is “really not enough” to address the trauma involved and produce many successful outcomes.
“Sometimes the children are at such risk of harm that we need to take protective custody,” he said. “The families who are already in crisis now have to deal with the courts, oftentimes the police, hospital officials, school officials and the like.”
He said family advocacy centers provide such parents with a coach to help them do what they need to do to get their children back. Such centers, of which there are about 20 around the state, also serve intact families involved in the child welfare system and also families at risk of becoming involved.
Supported by a $200,000 grant awarded to Old King’s Orchard Community Center, the new facility is located in an annex building owned by Grace United Methodist Church that was previously used as an attendance center for Anna Waters Head Start.
Its director is Leshonda Rogers and program director is Oneathia Perkins, who hold the same positions at Primed for Life Inc., in Springfield and will divide their time between the two locations. The full-time family advocates are DaJuan Johnson and Laura Salefski.
Rogers said the Decatur facility has already had five cases referred to them and could handle as many as 60. “We are an extension of the services already provided in the community,” she said. “We are here to be a partner.”
President Alida Graham and other members of the Old King’s Orchard board were the hosts of Monday’s open house. Organizations sending representatives included the Community Foundation of Decatur/Macon County, Decatur Family Refuge, Decatur Housing Authority, Homework Hangout and Northeast Community Fund.