State has had previous foster-care changes

State has had previous foster-care changes

Illinois has been through similar foster-care transitions in Chicago and Rockford.

Catholic Charities in Chicago closed its foster care program in 2007 when it lost insurance coverage following a $12 million payment in a foster abuse lawsuit. Catholic Charities transferred nearly 1,000 cases to other private agencies, said Kendall Marlowe, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

And in June, Catholic Charities of Rockford chose to leave the system rather than fight the civil unions law and subject its families to months of uncertainty, diocesan spokeswoman Penny Wiegert said.

The Youth Services Bureau of Illinois Valley, based in Ottawa, took over its 300 foster care cases, hiring Catholic Charities' caseworkers and in some counties even keeping the same offices.

"It was a very difficult decision in the first place, and we couldn't have asked for a better outcome," Wiegert said. "Not only did the children and families not experience any disruption whatsoever in their lives, they also got to keep the same caseworker."

Ideally, the child's care, the licensed foster home and the caseworker for that family can be kept together in any transition, Marlowe said.

"The only thing that changes in the life of the child is the logo on the letterhead," Marlowe said.

Even if that doesn't happen, "this transition does not necessarily mean that any child would have to move from their foster home, or that there would have to be disruption in the child's life," he said. "Overwhelmingly, foster parents are committed to the children in their home and are willing to transition to working with a new private agency."

Illinois has the strongest private-sector child welfare network in the country, with 45 private agencies handling 80 percent of the state's foster-care cases, Marlowe said. The other 20 percent are administered by DCFS itself.

Reforms in the child-welfare system also have reduced the number of foster-care cases from 52,000 in 1997 to 15,400 today, as Illinois reoriented its system to provide permanent adoptive homes for children who had languished too long in foster care, he said.

Marlowe expressed confidence that Catholic Charities of Peoria and other dioceses would work with the state on a smooth transition, based on the collaborative experiences in Rockford and Chicago.

"Catholic Charities has done great work for children and families for decades. We did not wish to see them leave the field, but the child-welfare system they helped build is now strong enough to readily handle this transition," he said.

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