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DCFS RECRUITING FOSTER PARENTS
DURING FOSTER PARENT APPRECIATION MONTH

SPRINGFIELD, IL, MAY 5, 1998 --The state’s child welfare agency is inviting Illinois families to make a difference in the lives of children by considering becoming foster parents during May, which has been proclaimed Foster Parent Appreciation Month by Governor Jim Edgar.
"Whereas, to foster means to nourish, cherish and encourage, which is what foster parents do..., and whereas foster parents meet a very special need in our society..., and whereas thousands of caring adults in Illinois have opened their hearts as well as their homes to provide a loving and stable environment for more than 40,000 children; and whereas the contributions of Illinois foster parents to the welfare of these children are incalculable and irreplaceable... Illinois foster parents deserve our gratitude and respect for the work they do every day," the Governor said in his proclamation.

Jess McDonald, Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, challenged Illinois families to make a difference in the lives of children.

"We are all stakeholders in the safeguarding of children," said McDonald, whose agency was just named State Agency of the Year by the National Foster Parent Association in recognition of its efforts to recruit and support foster parents. NFPA was responsible for establishing the first National Foster Care Month in 1988.

"Our Department is always in need of loving, stable homes for children whose natural parents are not safely caring for them," McDonald said. "We are not just looking for numbers. We are looking for the right match. There is no better time to consider becoming a foster parent than during Foster Parent Appreciation Month, when we take time out to recognize those who dedicate themselves to this important work."

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is one of the largest and busiest state child welfare agencies in the nation, with approximately 48,200 children in substitute care statewide.

While noting the decline in the number of children in substitute care from a peak of 51,591 in March 1997 to its present level -- ending two decades of growth that have seen substitute care numbers more than double, McDonald stressed that DCFS still needs to recruit more foster homes, especially those for brother and sister groups, children with special needs, teen mothers with children, older children, and minority children.

The prestigious State Agency of the Year Award was presented to the Department on May 1, during the National Foster Parent Association’s national convention in Orlando, Fla. State child welfare agencies nationwide were evaluated in three categories: services to children, services for foster care programs, and services to foster parent organizations.

Judy Battig, president of the Illinois Foster Parents Association, said her chapter was proud to nominate DCFS because the Department has been a strong and tireless advocate on behalf of the children and families of Illinois.

"In Illinois, we feel we are being heard," Battig said. "DCFS is really trying to do a good job for the children and foster parents of Illinois, and the Department needs to be recognized for it, as well as Jess McDonald. He’s a Director that will ask us into his office to sit down and talk about any problems, but not only problems. He will ask us how they can be fixed."

McDonald received a a Special Recognition Award from the National Foster Parent Association for his efforts that have improved Illinois’ foster care system.

"These awards highlight the good work being done in Illinois," said McDonald. "But the greatest credit goes to the hard work of individual foster parents, not just to organizations. Their contributions and sacrifices on behalf of abused and neglected children are immeasurable, and we owe them a great debt of thanks."

People who are interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents can call the Foster Parent Hotline (800-624-KIDS) or the Adoption Information Center of Illinois (800-572-2390) for details. To report suspected child abue or neglect, the public should call the DCFS Child Abuse Hotline (800-25-ABUSE).

The Department is working to speed the licensing process for more people who want to become foster parents. It is also working to offer more convenient hours for training, and improving support services. Foster parents can be either married couples or single persons, renters as well as homeowners. Those interested must attend training and pass both criminal and child abuse background checks.

Foster parents receive a monthly allowance that covers the expenses of caring for each child placed into their home.

"The real reward of foster parenting, however, is the chance to make a difference in a child’s life," McDonald said.

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