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FIRST LADY BRENDA EDGAR READS TO ADOPTED CHILDREN

SPRINGFIELD, IL, DECEMBER 18, 1998 -- First Lady Brenda Edgar, who recently received a national award for her efforts to increase the number of Illinois children who have moved to safe, caring homes through adoptions, today hosted a party for adopted children at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers at 3110 W. White Oaks Drive.

Approximately 20 adopted children and their families from the Springfield area listened to a book reading by the First Lady and received an assortment of childrenís books donated by Barnes & Noble.

"This is a warm and happy time to remember what adoption is all about," said Mrs. Edgar, who gave a parting gift of $20,000 this month to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Childrenís Benefit Fund, through Chicago retailer Marshall Fields.

"You can see through the eyes of these children the kind of love and acceptance and security they feel. Thatís the power and the life-changing potential offered by adoption," Mrs. Edgar said.

The First Lady and Governor Jim Edgar last month received the Adoption 2002 Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The first couple, as well as the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, were among eight individuals and organizations nationwide that were honored by President Clinton at a White House ceremony highlighting Adoption Awareness Month.

Because of an increased emphasis by DCFS and private agency staff on permanent placements for Illinois foster children, adoptions throughout the State of Illinois nearly doubled in Fiscal Year 1998 - to 4,293, compared to Fiscal Year 1997, when 2,229 adoptions were finalized. An additional 1,129 children were transitioned into permanent homes in Fiscal Year 1998 under the Departmentís new subsidized guardianship program.

"Our attention remains focused on the hundreds of children currently waiting to be adopted, as well as the hundreds of additional children expected to be freed for adoption as we enter the second year of the stateís Permanency Initiative," said DCFS Director Jess McDonald. "These children still need families willing to open their hearts and their homes."

In Illinois, children of all ages, backgrounds and abilities are waiting for parents to make a difference in their lives. These are children who need families to help them grow and develop to their fullest potential. They are children who need love, guidance, and a sense of belonging that only a family can provide. The Illinois Department of Children Family Services is committed to finding safe and happy homes for the hundreds of children under state care who are currently available for adoption.

"The child welfare system was never meant to be a permanent home for the 44,000 children in substitute care in Illinois," said Jane Elmore, DCFS Deputy Director of Foster Care & Permanency. Elmore of Springfield, attended the book reading with her 4-year-old adopted daughter Quin.

"Quin loved the stories," her mother said. "Mrs. Edgar has been a strong advocate for the children of Illinois for many years, and DCFS will ever be grateful to her for having the well-being of our children on her agenda."

Mrs. Edgarís contributions on behalf of the children of Illinois include Project Heart, which she and the Governor established to reduce the red tape of the adoption process. Mrs. Edgar also helped develop a model adoption benefits program, produced public service announcements on adoption, and led the Help Me Grow campaign for children and families. As part of that campaign, she worked with retailer Marshall Fields for donations of a P.J. Huggabee bear to every child entering the Illinois foster-care system. The Edgars also have personally and generously donated to adoption causes over the years.

"Barnes & Noble is honored today to host Mrs. Edgar in celebration of adoptions," said Barnes & Noble Community Relations Director Matthew Kunce. "Just as loving, nurturing homes are critical to a childís development, books too are important to that development, and we are pleased to host this most worthwhile endeavor."

This year, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has set a goal of 6,000 adoptions, a target that is achievable due to several factors: the Permanency Initiative of 1997, which enacted reforms reducing the timeframes in which to move children to permanence; performance contracting, which provides incentives to private agencies to move children from foster care to permanency; innovative recruitment programs like the Corporate Partnerships for the Recruitment of Adoptive Families; and stronger partnerships with Illinois Juvenile Courts.

Financial and technical adoption assistance may be available both before and after a child in DCFS care is adopted. Adoption is an option to all who qualify, including married couples, single males and females, renters and homeowners.

An adoption hotline (800-572-2390) is available to answer questions and to help families begin the adoption process.

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