Secular agency forms to handle child welfare
PEORIA — A new not-for-profit child welfare agency has been formed to take over the adoption and foster care services formerly carried out by Catholic Charities of Peoria in Champaign, Danville and eight other central Illinois communities.
Newly launched this month, the new agency is called the Center for Youth and Family Solutions.
It is operating with former Catholic Charities staff and at former Catholic Charities locations — but it is a secular agency without ties to the Catholic Church or its Peoria Diocese, according to Celeste Matheson, the agency's director of development and communications.
The agency was created to resolve a dilemma when the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services terminated adoption and foster care contracts last summer with Catholic Charities in Peoria, Joliet, Springfield and Belleville. Catholic Charities doesn't recognize Illinois' new civil-unions law and won't place children with unmarried couples on the basis that it violates its religious beliefs. Catholic Charities withdrew from a legal battle over the civil unions last November.
The new agency is expected to serve about 20,000 individuals and families, including senior citizens, in 38 counties in central Illinois, according to information sent by Matheson.
In addition to foster care and adoption services, it is offering pregnancy planning, behavioral counseling and youth intervention at 1315A Curt Drive, C; 102 N. Robinson St., Danville; and other former Catholic Charities locations. It will also offer in-home counseling for seniors and residential services for youth in Peoria, Matheson said.
"What's great about this solution is the clients shouldn't see any difference," she said. "The children should see the same caseworkers."
Kendall Marlowe, DCFS spokesman, said a seamless transition of adoption and foster care cases from Catholic Charities to new secular agencies has been under way since last summer, with the new agency in Peoria the final piece of the puzzle to put in place.
The new agency has an independent board and "they're completely unaffiliated with the Diocese of Peoria and they're completely committed to serving same-sex couples," he said.
There are currently 15,264 children in foster care in Illinois, and 80 percent are handled by private agencies, Marlowe said.
None of the transitions from Catholic Charities to new secular agencies involved moving a child from one home to another, he said.
"There was no gap," Marlowe added. "Catholic Charities worked with us from one day to the next."
He also says it's important to note nothing is changing but the agencies that administer the foster care and adoption cases.
"The cases are the same, the foster families are the same, and the kids are the same," he said.
Matheson said the logistics took some time to work out, but "I think we both had the same concerns."
Both Catholic Charities and the state wanted to maintain a continuity of care for the children and caseworkers, she said.
"Even one change in a caseworker can delay the progress a child will see," she added.
In all, there are about 3,000 children entrusted to the care of the new Peoria agency, and its staff of about 375 is about the same number formerly working for Catholic Charities, Matheson said.
About 95 percent to 98 percent of Catholic Charities' staff went with the new agency because the majority of the staff worked with foster care and adoption services, she said.
In addition to Champaign and Danville, the new agency has locations in Bloomington, Galesburg, Macomb, Lincoln, LaSalle, Peoria, Rock Island and Springfield. With the exception of one location changing in Peoria, all agency locations are at former Catholic Charities buildings, Matheson said.