DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES
AND FAMILY SERVICES PLAN
program or process changes does the Department need to make in order
to shorten the length of time for a child to achieve a safe and permanent
permanency for its wards in substitute care is a key component of
the Departments mission. Children are brought into substitute
care when their safety and well being cannot be maintained within
their birth families. Once children are in substitute care, the challenge
to the Department and its private partners is to reestablish a permanent
family environment for children as quickly as possible.
child in substitute care is assigned a permanency goal. The Department
has focused increased attention on the three primary permanency options
- Returning children home after completion of a successful plan
of care is the preferred permanency goal. A child is returned
when the circumstances that resulted in their removal have been
addressed, and the agency and the courts believe reunification
would be safe.
- When children cannot be reunified with their families, adoption
is the permanency plan of choice. Parental rights must be terminated
or parents must surrender the child for adoption before this can
take place. Subsidies are available for children age three and
older, children with mental, emotional or physical disabilities,
and sibling groups, when at least one of the siblings meets the
above criteria. More than 95% of families who adopt Department
wards receive subsidies for the childrens care.
- Guardianship is when an individual or couple assumes legal responsibility
for a child until the child reaches age 18. It can be extended
until age 21 if the childs needs merit it. Parental rights
need not have been terminated. Guardianship without subsidy has
always been a permanency option for DCFS wards. However, in October
1996 the federal government granted Illinois a waiver to allow
subsidized guardianship of DCFS wards. Subsidies are identical
to the adoption subsidy available for the same child. To be eligible
for subsidized guardianship, it must be determined that the child
cannot return home and adoption must be ruled out. The child must
be 12 years old, unless with a relative, and must have been in
state custody for two years and in the same foster home for one
year. Siblings of eligible children may also be converted to guardianship
with the same family. Savings achieved by moving children from
the foster care system into guardianship are used to fund support
services for post-guardianship families and to allow for guardianship
subsidies for non-IV-E eligible families. Since adoption makes
the guardian the legal parent of the child for life, not just
until their 18th birthday, adoption remains the preferred
permanency option when reunification is not possible. As this
is a demonstration project, there are control groups who are not
eligible for Guardianship status.
permanency options of adoption, reunification, or guardianship have
been ruled out, a goal of independence can be established for a child.
In most cases where the permanency goal is independence, The child
is an adolescent over the age of 16 with other considerations that
make finding foster homes for them difficult. Youth whose permanency
goal is independence may receive services in their foster home that
teach personal finance skills, help with enrollment in education or
trade programs, or help them obtain other skills needed to live independently.
Youth with a goal of independence may also reside in an Independent
Living setting, a state supported living arrangement in which they
receive some supervision but have no formal family support system.
Many adolescents participating in this type of living arrangement
have complicating factors making foster care placements difficult,
and many are pregnant or parenting teens. Under performance contracting,
Independent Living is considered a neutral outcome.
Growth of Substitute Care in Illinois
In 1990, Illinois had 20,753 children in substitute care, which is
a rate of 7 children in care per 1,000 children in the population.
By 1995 there were 53,342 children in substitute care and Illinois
substitute care rate of 17.1 per thousand was the highest in the nation.
During the same time period the national median rate of substitute
care rose only from 4.9 to 6.3 per 1,000 (Statistics from the Child
Welfare League of America).
explanation of Illinois caseload growth is that DCFS simply
took more children into substitute care. In one sense that is true:
DCFS did take more children into substitute care each year from FY
1990 to FY 1995, peaking in FY 1995. Much of this rise is attributable
to the practice of opening relative foster care (HMR) cases in instances
where children were cared for by relatives in the parents absence,
but were not at risk of abuse or neglect. A series of high profile
abuse and neglect cases accentuated the growth of intake by creating
a climate of fear among caseworkers and other professionals in the
child welfare system. Nobody wanted to be responsible for making a
decision that might not only harm a child, but end up in national
headlines as well. HMR Reform, implemented in 1995, ended the practice
of opening the aforementioned "non-removal" HMR cases. Other
changes at the "front end," along with partnership with
the juvenile courts have also brought the intake of new foster care
cases under control. However, even at the peak of intake in 1995,
Illinois placed children in substitute care at a rate comparable to
the national median (2.6 placed per 1,000 in Illinois vs. the median
decline in permanency achievement explains why Illinois caseload
grew so quickly between 1990 and 1995. When intake began to grow,
DCFS and private agencies focused their attention on hiring staff
and otherwise coping with growing caseloads. This consumed human and
financial resources that might otherwise have gone toward moving children
out of foster care. Whether a case is carried by a public or private
case manager, moving a child to permanency is time consuming, and
traditionally the only reward to providers was to receive a new case
with all the complications involved with "starting from scratch."
this time the growing crisis in permanency was hidden because the
absolute number of children leaving the system was increasing slowly.
However, the rate of permanency achievement was falling dramatically.
As a percent of beginning-of-year foster care cases, 35% of DCFS
wards reached permanency in 1990. By 1995 the permanency rate had
dropped to 17% statewide, with Cook wards only moving to permanency
at a rate of 8%. At the same time, the average child in foster care
stayed in care longer. In FY 1997, downstate children were remaining
in substitute care an average of 30 months. In Cook County, the average
was 60 months -- twice as long as in other major metropolitan areas
in the United States.
To help address this situation, landmark legislation was passed in
the 1997 session of the Illinois General Assembly that required courts,
as well as the Department, to move children to permanency more quickly.
Most of the package went into effect January 1, 1998. Among the highlights
of the legislation are:
Health and Safety Paramount
Redesign Linkages to Attain Permanency
Permanency Goals and Elimination of Long Term Care as a Goal
to Reach Permanency Decisions
ad Litem (GAL) Certification
Searches for Parents and Relatives
to Parental Inquiries
Waivers of Criminal Convictions
Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance (ICAMA)
actions also supported the legislative reform. Before and after the
legislative package passed, DCFS undertook its own reform effort.
Extensive training was provided to DCFS and private agency staff to
enable them to implement the new legislative and administrative reforms.
Programming was developed to track services based on new legal requirements.
In Cook County, unprecedented cooperation, joint planning, training,
and coordination by the Juvenile Court and the Department helped produce
significant improvements in service delivery. Performance contracting
and other financial reforms dovetailed with the legislative reform.
In 1996, private foster care providers and the state came together
to address two critical issues confronting the states child
welfare system: 1) the alarmingly low number of children leaving foster
care for permanent homes; and 2) the instability resulting from moving
children in and out of different foster care placements. Emerging
from this dialogue was an agreement to make 85 percent of the states
child welfare caseload (relative care and traditional foster care)
subject to Performance Contracting. Performance contracting was announced
in the last quarter of FY 1997 and was first implemented in Cook Countys
kinship care program July 1, 1997. On July 1, 1998 performance contracting
was expanded to include traditional foster care and the rest of the
move to performance contracting signaled a commitment to system-wide
accountability and securing results in the best interests of children.
Under performance contracting a major shift has taken place: outcomes
for children matter, not just activities. By outlining and contracting
for specific outcomes for children in DCFS care, a powerful tool has
been introduced which is moving child welfare practice from a bureaucratic
and centralized system to one that is energized and regulated by competition
and performance. This is a means for shifting our governing principles
from administration through policy and procedural directive to management
through financial incentives.
an agreement that system-wide performance would increase three-fold
(from a yearly average rate of 8 percent to a minimum of 24 percent),
the Department was able to use the savings from achieved permanencies
to make significant investments in performance-enhancing services.
The contracts invested substantially in staffing, services and maximized
agency flexibility to ensure results.
performance contracting, DCFS did more than set outcome goals for
foster care. The Department built performance expectations into the
contract and payment structure. The heart of this structure is a mechanism
guaranteeing results. DCFS contracts and pays for child welfare services
by building in an expectation that agencies will meet specific permanency
outcomes. Within this framework, agencies have a clear incentive to
perform. They benefit directly from exceeding performance expectations
by retaining savings from lowered caseloads. Conversely, they also
bear the risk of not meeting their contracted performance level, and
the implementation of performance contracting, DCFS has had on-going
dialogue with private and public child welfare service providers.
Monthly meetings between program directors and DCFS staff representing
contract administration, operations, legal, agency monitoring and
central management are used as regular opportunities to problem solve
and plan for the future. All parties use a standardized, interactive
process for evaluating results.
though outcomes are now emphasized, best practice continues to be
the goal. Performance contracting requires POS agencies to become
accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families
and Children. Also, Agency Performance Teams monitor each private
The combined efforts of performance contracting and legislative and
administrative reform have produced significant improvements in permanency
achievement. Most notably, the recent increases in permanencies achieved
have mostly come in the form of adoptions and subsidized guardianships,
while the number of children reunified has been relatively stable.
It should be noted that one of the results of the Departments
Front End Redesign is that children that historically would have been
removed from their families and subsequently reunified are now not
removed at all, but instead are served in intact families whenever
it can be done safely. This improvement is one that cannot be measured
through reunification figures, but the Department still seeks improved
Department made a number of policy changes to help guide interviewers,
assure safety, and build confidence and coordination with the courts
and Guardians ad Litem.
remove barriers to reunification, performance contracting was modified
to include resources for reunification services following a childs
return home to ensure safety, stability, and well being. Services
are individualized to the specific needs of each family, and may last
up to a year.
Adoption & Guardianship
Prior to recent reforms, the procedures and staffing around adoption
services presented some barriers to efficient performance. In agencies
that did not have adoption contracts, adoptive cases were transferred
to specialized DCFS adoption units for completion. This system had
the effect of 1) concentrating adoption expertise at the expense of
general caseworkers; 2) taking some of the most gratifying work away
from regular caseworkers; 3) creating a bureaucratic bottleneck in
the adoption process; 4) exacerbating other fiscal disincentives that
inhibited private agencies from moving children to adoption; and 5)
adoption workers had to assume all casework duties, not just those
relating to the adoption process, which further reduced their efficiency.
address this and other adoption issues, the Department changed the
case responsibilities of adoption workers so that they could concentrate
on adoption/guardianship assessment and decision-making functions,
prospective adoption and guardianship cases.
with children and adoptive families to lay the groundwork for
adoption/guardianship even before the permanency goal becomes
adoption or guardianship.
with placement staff and caregivers to explore adoption/guardianship.
casework duties remain with the regular caseworker.
of the success in preparing children for adoption and permanency,
it is important to ensure that there are permanent homes for these
children. To this end, each Region has developed a specific plan for
the recruitment of permanent homes. A statewide recruitment plan to
target both minority and non-minority homes will be launched in late
May of this year.
Department has undertaken statewide efforts to attract permanent homes
targeting groups or industries whose members may be likely to adopt.
The Department launched a Corporate Partnership for Recruitment of
Adoptive Families in April of 1998. Its first partner was the Illinois
Hospital & Healthsystems Association and their member hospitals
across the state. Since the initiation, 26 hospitals have signed onto
the project, 21 licensing applications have been completed, 18 licenses
have been issued and 5 families have been matched with a child.
changes in the adoption process include:
Cook County, performance contracts include funding for one adoption
worker for each team of seven workers.
Downstate foster care contracts now have corresponding adoption
contracts so those providers are paid for finalized adoptions.
County now has a centralized DCFS adoption unit that handles all
adoption/guardianship subsidies, all expedited adoptions, and
monitors POS program development and POS program accreditation.
reforms were implemented through partnership with Juvenile Courts,
States Attorneys, and other parties. Without this partnership
and the cooperation of the Cook County Juvenile Court, many of
the Departments efforts to improve adoption would have been
funding of and referral to the Adoption Information Center of
Illinois/Adoption Listing Service of children in need of an adoptive
Prior to consummating an adoption and thus securing a permanent home
for a child, it is first necessary to terminate parental rights. The
Department has focused efforts in recent years on improving the process
and length of time necessary to complete this judicial process. Throughout
the state, regional attorneys screen cases ready to go to the courts
for termination of parental rights and adoption to assure that all
appropriate steps have been taken and sufficient grounds exist to
move the child to permanency. In Cook County, the office of legal
counsel conducts pre-screenings of adoption cases and then participates
in a screening process with the Cook County States Attorneys
staff have stepped up their efforts in preparing for termination hearings.
Staff are meeting more frequently with individual judges and States
Attorneys to work on moving children to permanency. DCFS attorneys
are assisting staff in preparing cases and training them on juvenile
have played a major role in Illinois improved rate at terminating
rights and moving children to permanency. In the early 1990s,
people were hesitant to terminate rights. The states Permanency
Initiative legislation served to clarify when rights should be terminated
and under what circumstances. Rights were terminated in less than
1,000 cases in Cook County as recently as 1994. In 1998 the court
took this action in 5,106 cases, more than a five-fold increase.
AND FUTURE STEPS
the Departments biggest challenge is to increase the rate of
permanency achievement and reduce the average length of stay for children
in foster care, especially relative care. State and federal laws necessitate
timelines of no more than 2 years for children in care. Meanwhile,
every indication is that in order for the size of our foster care
system to again reflect national norms, the rate at which children
are returned home, adopted, or placed in subsidized guardianship must
HMR performance contracting requirements for FY2000:
with a Cook HMR contract achieving a 24% permanency rate or better
will be on full intake for FY 2000
2000 Cook HMR permanency expectation is 33% (an increase of 38%)
2000 Cook HMR caseloads funded at 22.5:1 (a reduction of 10%)
meeting the permanency expectations of the Cook HMR FY 2000 Performance
Contracts, contracted agencies will have the opportunity to earn
down to a funded caseload ratio of 20.5:1. This is accomplished
by contracting for 7.5 permanencies per caseload (33%) but only
referring 5.5 children per caseload.
non-permanencies will be replaced per caseload, with every placement
change reviewed by the managing agency, and verified by the Department
caseload exits from FY98 and cases paid as part of Bonus Option
2 will be replaced by 10/1/99
of children from HMR into specialized foster care will not be counted
as non-permanencies so long as the step-up does not involve a placement
add-on referrals will be given to agencies on hold, and sibling
groups associated with add-on referrals will be consolidated with
agencies receiving intake
those agencies performing close to the 24% permanency standard in
FY99, the Department will make every effort allow add-on referrals,
and not remove the associated siblings.
of the very low performers will be given the opportunity to re-tool
in order to provide other needed services in their community, and
their HMR contracts will be phased out over the course of FY 2000
will not fund the QA/Court Liaison positions
intake levels are sufficient, the Department will explore the opportunity
of allowing add-on referrals, and opening agencies on hold for intake.
of the most striking features inherent in the performance contracting
model is its flexibility in adapting to changing dynamics in the foster
care system. Essentially, the same process that secured system-wide
results for the HMR caseload in FY98 can be readily employed in FY2000
and beyond. The key in this undertaking is identifying both the opportunities
for improving outcomes and resources necessary to make the increased
expectations a reality.
performing agencies with declining referral. In FY2000, the
Department will need to meet the demand for about 75% of system
providers that are likely to meet the required 24-percent permanency
threshold to be on full-intake. Better scrutiny of add-ons assigned
to agencies on hold, transfer of out-of-state cases from DCFS
to the private sector, modifications of compensation, and identification
and transfer of "uncompensated care" cases create referrals
within the private and public sectors consistently single out a few
key challenges in the immediate future:
A look at Illinois permanency trend makes obvious our continued
struggle with returning children home, particularly in Cook County.
Despite dramatic increases in the average per family spending
for reunification services during SFY98 and the leverage of performance
contracting, reunifications increased less than half of 1 percent.
Much of this problem can be linked to substance abuse. A 1998
GAO report showed that 74 percent of Cook County, Illinois parents
with children in foster care have AODA problems. More troubling
is the fact that 76 percent of parents with children in the system
for at least one year either failed to complete or never entered
and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) IV-E Waiver. The waiver request
specifically seeks to improve child welfare services to families
impacted by AODA by providing an improved integration and interface
between the child welfare and AODA treatment systems in Illinois.
Services delivered through the IV-E waiver will be provided to
assigned groups of open DCFS cases in Cook County, including Chicago,
and the enhanced package of treatment and support services will
be added to the existing state funded service mix aimed at addressing
the needs of substance affected families. By addressing AODA problems
of families, the services will assist in allowing for the safe
reunification or achievement of other permanency options for children
of families whose children are in DCFS custody. The program enhancements
would be claimable at the same IV-E rate as for families in the
control group not receiving enhanced services.
for High End Children in HMR. Our own research demonstrates
that relatives are durable and effective caregivers. Despite caring
for children with significant emotional and behavioral problems,
these families tend to stick with the child. Their willingness
support that child permanently without the proper supports for
the childs needs is limited, however, and a concerted effort
needs to be made by the Department to provide families the supports
necessary to care for the child.
for Older Relative Caregivers. Providers consistently report
that older caregivers are concerned about their ability to manage
caregiving alone. Added to this is the fact that several agencies
have moved up to 50% of the eligible demonstration cases in their
caseload into subsidized guardianship. Those families that remain
will profile differently, and are likely to need additional service
supports after guardianship to commit to permanency.
Adoptions and Guardianship. Developing community-based supports
for caregivers such as counseling, mentoring and after school
programs, tutoring and other services which could be readily accessed
and facilitated by child welfare agencies could potentially alleviate
the concerns caregivers have about their ability to continue without
support as the children age.
Supports. With the dramatic increase in the number of adoptions
and guardianships achieved, the Department needs to increase the
support given to the adoptive and guardianship families. Beginning
in FY00, 20 percent of federal family center services will be
dedicated to adoption preservation and support through the LANs
and other community groups. The increase will allow the Department
to respond to the increasing adoption/guardianship caseload through
programs to make adoptive parents more familiar with what they
can generally expect in raising an adoptive child as well as more
knowledgeable about the adoption preservation system. Support
groups and outreach groups will provide emotional support to adoptive
parents. Funds will be used to allow some families who may benefit
from longer services to receive services beyond the current five-month
Incentive Payments. The federal government initiated a program
to provide states with incentive payments based upon increased
special needs adoptions or adoptions from the foster care system
over the baseline years. Illinois has drastically increased the
number of eligible adoptions, and stands to receive a sizable
grant ward. While the exact amount or timing of funds to be received
is not currently available, the Department plans to use these
funds to further expand the adoption preservation programs, assist
with concurrent planning for children in foster care, and make
other improvements to achieve permanency.
RANGE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
long-term goal is to achieve permanency for most children within a
two-year time frame. If successful, the size of our foster care system
should shrink to below 20,000 children by the year 2003a substantial
change from 1995 when over 50,000 children swelled the states
foster care system. Specific goals include:
of a 2 year length of stay with median length of stay of one year
outcomes for populations that have historically been difficult
to move to permanency, especially older wards.
reach these goals, the Department will continue to identify and overcome
the barriers to permanency and stability that face Illinois
most vulnerable children.