Foster children are Illinois’ children and we are failing them.
In May, we celebrate National Foster Care month. As the president and chief executive officer of Lutheran Child and Family Services (LCFS) of Illinois, one of the largest private child welfare agencies in Illinois, I am saddened to say that our foster care system is in crisis due to a lack of investment. And it is the children in care who are paying the greatest price.
There are approximately 17,000 children currently in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Every citizen of the state are the legal “guardians” of these children, and we are failing them.
Community-based child welfare agencies have not seen a meaningful rate increase in this century. Staff turnover rates are nearing 50 percent. As turnover persists, a never-ending cycle is created where experienced workers don’t have time to mentor new ones, caseloads increase, outcomes suffer and burnout grows. When a foster child’s worker changes, there is an emotional cost to the child as well as creating longer stays in care. Illinois youth languish is foster care longer than anywhere else in the country.
LCFS stands ready to work with the newly nominated DCFS director Marc Smith to right the ship, but strong leadership is not enough to end the crisis we’re facing.
There are two identical bills HB2524 and SB1730 that would provide an immediate rate increase to child welfare agencies and require they establish a methodology for adjusting rates on an annual basis to keep up with costs. The General Assembly must act now to prevent further harm, so that agencies can invest in hiring, training and supporting staff, and ultimately children in foster care can receive the quality care they deserve.
We are their “guardians” and it’s time we started acting like it.
Michael Bertrand, Decatur