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SPRINGFIELD, IL, NOVEMBER 24, 1998 -- Gov. Jim Edgar, First Lady Brenda Edgar and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Sevices have been nationally recognized for pushing Illinois to the forefront of child welfare initiatives by dramatically increasing the number of children moved to permanent homes through adoption and legal guardianship.

The Governor and Mrs. Edgar, along with DCFS Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Jess McDonald, are each recipients of the Adoption 2002 Excellence Award. It was bestowed on the Edgars and Director McDonald by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Also Tuesday, the Governor and Mrs. Edgar and Director McDonald were invited by President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton to a recognition ceremony at the White House Ceremony.

Illinois groups or individuals won three of the eight national adoption awards announced Tuesday.

"Illinois’ commitment to children who are wards of the state is evident in the number of Illinoisans who came forward this past year to provide these children with loving, nurturing and stable homes," the Governor said.

"Brenda and I are personally grateful to all those who opened their hearts and their homes to help us over the past year as we doubled the number of children who moved to safe, caring homes. We also want to express our appreciation to the private agencies who were responsible for 70 percent of those adoptions, along with DCFS staff and our Juvenile Court allies in this achievement.

"Moving these kids in need to safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible has been a priority for Brenda and me for many years. This award is truly gratifying because it means thousands more Illinois kids now have the nurturing environment they need to shape and lead happier, healthier and more productive lives."

The Governor and Mrs. Edgar received the Adoption 2002 Excellence Award for individual/family contribution recognizing their efforts to promote and increase adoptions.

The Adoption 2002 Excellence Award honors individuals and organizations that have met the challenge of President Clinton’s Adoption 2002 initiative to move more foster children into permanent homes. In 1997, President Clinton challenged the states to double the number of adoptions and permanent placements in five years. DCFS exceeded the President’s challenge in just one year.

DCFS received the Adoption 2002 Excellence Award for increasing the number of permanent placements from 2,229 in FY 1997 to 5,422 in FY 98, including 4,293 adoptions and 1,129 guardianships.

DCFS Director McDonald echoed the Governor’s appreciation to the many allies without whose help, he said, the Illinois adoption initiative would have fallen short.

"Our allies united on many fronts to prioritize permanency," McDonald said. "Private agencies, DCFS administrators and staff, foster parents and relatives, the Illinois General Assembly, and the Juvenile Courts came together to ensure compliance with the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, particularly in Cook County, where Judge Nancy Salyers has worked to the expedite court process.

"Under the Illinois Permanency Initiative signed into law by Gov. Edgar in July, 1997, when safely reuniting children with their families is not possible, DCFS can now act more quickly to move children out of the child welfare system and into permanent homes," McDonald said. "The Permanency Initiative has been key to achieving the record high number of adoptions for Illinois foster children."

DCFS recently received the State Agency of the Year Award for 1998 from the National Foster Parent Association, also recognizing the agency’s efforts on behalf of Illinois foster children.

The Governor credited recent adoption successes to several factors, including:

Increased emphasis by DCFS and private agencies on moving children from foster care to permanent homes.Performance contracts, which provides incentives to private agencies moving children from foster care to permanent homes.

Stronger partnerships with the Illinois Juvenile Courts.

Illinois Permanency Initiative legislation, which acknowledges the importance of quick action for children, and implements many changes to speed the placement of children in permanent homes, either with their parents or, with other families if parents are unable or unwilling to make progress toward reunification.

Innovative efforts to recruit adoptive homes, including the Corporate Adoption Recruitment Partnership, launched by the Governor to recruit adoptive families in the workplace, beginning with hospitals.

Mrs. Edgar, who also has made children’s issues a priority since becoming First Lady in 1991, accepted her Adoption 2002 Excellence Award on behalf of the thousands of Illinois children still in the State’s child-welfare system.

"I am extremely proud to receive this award on behalf of the 44,000 children who still are in the State’s child-welfare system," Mrs. Edgar said. "This award reflects the joy of all those children who have been blessed to find loving families, as well as the hope for the future held by the thousands of children who still await families to call their own."

Mrs. Edgar’s initiatives include Project Heart, which she and the Governor established to reduce the red tape of the adoption process. Mrs. Edgar also has testified before the General Assembly, and she has 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.

A third Illinois Adoption 2002 Excellence Award went to the Hope for the Children organization in Rantoul, a private, not-for-profit agency cited for its innovative adoption recruitment program.

Recently, Governor Edgar proclaimed November 1998 as Adoption Awareness Month in Illinois. The proclamation highlights Illinois’ nationally recognized role as an adoption recruitment leader, the importance of community and the need for new adoptive families.

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