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DCFS hosts Anniversary Symposium to explore
the future of child welfare

Nation's first cabinet-level state child welfare agency convenes current and former leaders, policy experts and providers to address how agency's past is shaping its future

Panelist Donald Brieland, the Department's first director, listens as Director Bryan Samuels opens the DCFS 40th Anniversary Symposium.
See event photos

Chicago (December 10, 2004) - The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) today hosted a symposium to mark 40 years of service to children and families across the state. Director Bryan Samuels was joined by former Directors, child welfare policy experts and advocates to reflect on the agency's past and to address opportunities and challenges that exist today.

"As we take this opportunity to celebrate the progression of child welfare in Illinois, many of us recognize that the next phase of change is only just beginning," said Director Samuels. "History and research has shown us that we must move beyond keeping our children safe. We now need to focus on a lifetime approach of support that includes finding them stable homes and equipping them with the education and job readiness skills that will serve them effectively as adults."

The Symposium was held today at the Chicago Marriott Downtown and included plenary sessions titled, "Shifting Focus - From Safety to Permanence to Well Being", "Best Interests of the Child - Changing Definitions", and "Communities of Care." Some of the panelists included Dr. Carl Bell, Community Mental Health Council; Patricia Martin Bishop, Circuit Court of Cook County; and Benjamin Wolf, ACLU of Illinois. The keynote luncheon speaker was Carol Williams Spigner, D.S.W., University of Pennsylvania, PA and former Associate Commissioner, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

DCFS' history is steeped in a long tradition of service and innovation for the state's most vulnerable children. Illinois is home to the nation's first juvenile court, counts itself as the birthplace of social work (Jane Addams' Hull House), was among the first states to establish child protection laws, was an early signatory to laws mandating the reporting of child abuse and neglect, and created one of the nation's first statewide child abuse hotlines.

Until 1964, the state's child welfare responsibilities were housed in the Department of mental health. Limited services and placement programs for children were provided by
several state agencies, private agencies and county courts. Approximately 4,000 children
were served during the Department's first year of operation compared to a peak of 51,000 children in care in 1997.

In the past 40 years, DCFS has worked with private and public sector partners toward the creation of a series of successful initiatives that have served as a model for child welfare agencies throughout the United States including the development of a unique subsidized guardianship program and the unprecedented placement of more than 42,000 foster children into permanent homes since 1997.

The Department has also led the nation in building new partnerships including the One Church One Child adoption program and the Corporate Partnership for Recruitment of Adoptive Families initiative. Additional accomplishments include the development of a unique risk assessment tool and the creation of a computer tracking system for missing youth.

DCFS remains the largest child welfare agency to earn accreditation from the Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services. From annual investigations involving more than 98,500 children to the care of nearly 19,000 youth to the licensing of day care facilities that serve more than 270,000 children. The Department has a staff of 3,600 who are dedicated to providing unrivaled professional service at all levels.

Building on the foundation laid by his predecessors, Samuels has instituted a series of reforms to implement a lifetime approach to child welfare. Each of these reforms is designed to improve the development, well-being and life outcomes of children in state care. The Integrated Assessment ensures that the system has a broad understanding of a child's needs; re-designed transitional living and independent living programs proactively assist older youth in progressing toward self-sufficiency; and the new Education Passport and other academic initiatives are intended to improve the educational outcomes of foster children.

Expressing gratitude for the years of DCFS service represented and the distinguished careers of the former administrators and symposium participants, Samuels said, "We'd like to thank the former directors, presenters, panelists, sponsors and other participants for making this historic occasion possible. Only through our collective knowledge, resources and commitment can DCFS be successful in influencing positive outcomes for our state's children and their families as we continue our work.

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Diane Jackson
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services


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