Gov. Bruce Rauner and the director of the state’s Department of Children and Family Services are pushing for reforms aimed at improving care for at-risk youth.
At a news conference Monday, Rauner highlighted transformations at DCFS including reducing the number of children in shelter care by half, instituting a directive to ensure no child 6 or younger spends an evening in a shelter, and reducing the use of institutional residential treatment.
The governor praised the new direction of DCFS under the guidance of Director George Sheldon.
“The effectiveness has risen dramatically and there’s a renewed sense of energy and vigor in the department,” Rauner said, “and I give Director Sheldon huge credit for that.”
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Sheldon said while reforms are underway at DCFS, more work needs to be done to help restore families.
“On its best day, the state is not a good parent,” Sheldon said. “So the quicker we can reunify families or the quicker we can move children to an appropriate alternative setting, preferably an adoptive or kinship guardianship, the better off I think we are.”
Sheldon called on legislators to support several reform bills. One plan calls for foster parents to be included among those eligible to apply to become a child’s guardian. The other would allow foster parents and caregivers, rather than DCFS, to make more decisions on behalf of the child.
In a statement to Illinois Radio Network, Democratic state Sen. Mattie Hunter said she’s hopeful Sheldon will continue his work with human service advocates.
Meanwhile, Hunter said Rauner shouldn’t take credit for any improvements at DCFS.
“The Rauner administration needs to stop trying to take credit for programs that they considered nonessential and repeatedly tried to zero out of the budget,” Hunter said.
In response, Rauner’s press secretary, Catherine Kelly, tells IRN, “We encourage legislators to care more about outcomes and less about who gets credit. DCFS reform is a bipartisan effort and we would welcome Sen. Hunter's continued involvement in these efforts.”
The bills supported by DCFS are Senate Bill 2371-House Bill 5551 and Senate Bill 3041-House Bill 5665.