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Tuesday, January 31, 2023
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DCFS Caucus forms

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LEGISLATORS UNITE FOR NEW CAUCUS TO ADDRESS ILLINOIS CHILD SAFETY CHALLENGES
 
SPRINGFIELD – In an effort to address an Illinois child welfare system plagued with tragedy, state legislators have teamed up to form the DCFS Child Welfare Reform Caucus and proposed an initial set of reforms through legislation to be considered this week.
 
State Reps. Sara Feigenholtz, Anna Moeller and members of the DCFS Child Welfare Reform Caucus announced their plans Tuesday at a Statehouse news conference in response to a number of troubling and tragic child welfare cases involving the state Department of Children and Family Services. That includes the recent Crystal Lake case of 5-year-old AJ Freund, whose parents are accused of beating him to death after several complaints had been filed with DCFS.
 
They announced the filing of new language for Senate Bill 193 at the news conference, and it was set to be heard by the House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee Tuesday afternoon.
 
At a recent legislative hearing in Chicago, DCFS provided members of that committee details and a timeline for AJ’s death case. Committee members questioned DCFS about a lack of accountability up the chain of command that was exposed in cases like AJ’s.
 
“Senate Bill 193 will require accountability from DCFS by demanding higher-level reviews of cases involving non-school age children, and by ensuring that corrective action is taken in reviewed cases as necessary to protect children,” said Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat who leads the House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee. “Too many children face unspeakable circumstances simply because the state cannot figure out how to better care for and protect them. The lives of many General Assembly members have been touched by our system of adoption, foster care and child welfare. All of us are sad and angry to see this string of tragedies. We must act.”
 
Legislators joined with child advocates to discuss formation of a new DCFS Child Welfare Reform Caucus and new legislation to be considered Tuesday in a House committee to begin the long-overdue process of reforming the state’s child welfare system to improve the safety and protection of children in very difficult situations at home.  
 
Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, emphasized her commitment to helping children who are at risk for abuse and neglect. Anna’s personal experience of being exposed to opiates when born, being removed from her birth mother and raised by her grandparents led her to contrast how her life turned out much differently than AJ Freund. He was left in the custody of his birth parents, who are alleged to have abused drugs and violently beaten him to death.
 
“The state failed AJ. We must change and fix our child protective system. Our main priority must be what is best for the child — even if that means removing him or her from their parents. We need to support and improve our foster care and adoption system. We need to provide appropriate resources so DCFS can do its job. We must do better. We can’t let one more child suffer the way AJ (and all children of abuse have) suffered,” Moeller said.
 
SB 193 also neutralizes any incentives that encourage caseworkers to reunite families, leaving children at risk in situations where parents or family members are perpetrating child abuse and neglect, and require the sole focus to be on the child’s health, safety and best interests. Legislators will receive detailed reports on a regular basis that describe the issues identified in child protection investigations.
 
“What we learn from this information will help us continue to craft more system reforms,” Feigenholtz said.

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