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Lawmakers pass sibling rights resolution
submitted by foster children

Springfield, IL (June 4, 2004) - A joint legislative resolution originally submitted by Illinois foster children passed in both houses of the legislature last week. The resolution creates a Sibling Post-Adoption Continuing Contact Governor's Joint Task Force to study and make recommendations concerning visitation rights of foster children with their siblings after parental rights have been terminated.

"This resolution supports our Department's holistic approach to administering services to children in the state's care," said Director Bryan Samuels of the Department of Children and Family Services. "In most cases, ongoing sibling contact is essential to the growth and development of these children, especially when contact with their biological parents is no longer in the picture."

"Just as important," added Samuels, "is the fact that the foster children, themselves, wrote the resolution, and lobbied and testified in a committee hearing about their strong beliefs. I am very proud of their commitment, as well as the results of their hard work."
Last February, foster youth belonging to the DCFS Statewide Youth Advisory Board (SYAB) presented their joint resolution at a senate hearing and answered reporter questions at a capital press conference they hosted.

The resolution, written with the assistance of law students from Loyola University School of Law, creates a 20-member Task Force that will include legislators, current and former foster children and representatives from the Department's advisory groups on foster care, adoption and youth services.

The Joint Task Force will focus on establishing policies and programs on post-adoption contact that will serve the best interests of children while respecting the rights of adoptive parents. It will also determine the appropriate forum for hearing disputes in individual cases and make recommendations to the General Assembly about continuing sibling contact after adoptions take place. After holding a series of public hearings, the Task Force will issue recommendations to Governor Rod R. Blagojevich and the General Assembly. The final report is due within a year.

The resolution was developed by youth living in state care, because of strong feelings that the state's foster care system does not adequately support the need for brothers and sisters to be consistently connected. Reunification with biological families is not possible for many of the 19,000 state wards, making sibling contact the single remaining bond with their birth families. Once a youth is adopted in Illinois, sibling contact is currently left to the discretion of adoptive families.

"Serving children well also means listening to them," said Director Samuels. "Hearing the stories told by foster children and former wards about broken ties with siblings and the risks they feel when they join a new adoptive family tells better than any statistical report the importance of this issue. I am glad that the General Assembly has listened and acted to form the Task Force."

The resolution was sponsored by Senators Mattie Hunter (D, 3rd District) and Jacqueline Y. Collins (D, 16th District) and Representatives Annazette Collins (D, 10th District), Monique D. Davis (D, 27th District), Mary E. Flowers (D, 31st District), Carole Pankau (R, 45th District) and Robin Kelly (D, 38th District).

The DCFS Statewide Youth Advisory Board (SYAB) is a quality assurance advisory board composed entirely of wards and former wards. The 24-member board, ranging in age from 14 - 21 years-old, has been an integral part of the Department's strategic planning efforts since its inception. SYAB was created in 1994 in partnership with the Chicago Area Project and its members who demonstrated a deep commitment to youth in state care. The group began holding meetings with the DCFS Director to discuss ways to better meet the needs of youth in care and submitting reports that outlined the Board's progress with various youth-led initiatives.

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Jill Manuel
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services


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