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CHICAGO, IL, AUGUST 17, 1997 --Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Jess McDonald today was named the 1997 recipient of the prestigious Motorola Award for Public Excellence, recognizing exemplary leadership and achievements by a government administrator. McDonald was selected for the award by a blue-ribbon committee that evaluated candidates based on leadership, teamwork, innovation, and achievement.
"I congratulate Jess McDonald for receiving this award. No one has worked harder, more courageously and more effectively on behalf of Illinois' most vulnerable citizens," said Gov. Jim Edgar. "Jess has shown a strong commitment to children victimized by tragic abuse and neglect. This is deserved recognition for an outstanding public servant."

The award, now in its sixth year, is presented annually by the Aon Corp. in Chicago, the North Business and Industrial Council (NORBIC), and Illinois Issues Magazine.

"They look for someone who has demonstrated leadership, has made significant achievements, and has not only done good work, but has put together a good team," Ed Wojcicki, publisher of Illinois Issues, said. "They also look for someone who has been innovative and found new ways to solve old problems. People have an awfully, awfully lot of regard for Jess."

McDonald, who was chosen from among two dozen nominees of appointed public officials in state, Cook County, and City of Chicago government, will be honored at a luncheon Oct. 16 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago.

"I am honored by the recognition, but this is really a recognition of the staff at DCFS -- from caseworkers, child protection workers and office support staff to foster parents--everyone involved in serving children," McDonald said. "This award is due to everyone in the agency as recognition of their hard work and commitment to children."

Over the past three years:

DCFS adoptions have more than doubled, with 2,229 adoptions finalized last year.

Caseworker caseloads have fallen sharply, with the majority of workers at or near the 25-case limit imposed by a 1991 consent decree.

The growth rate of Illinois children entering substitute care decreased from double-digit percentages between 1991 and 1995 to only 1 percent last year.

The number of Illinois children in out-of-state placements decreased from a peak of 792 in 1995 to 294 today.

The growth rate of children in home-of-relative placement has decreased significantly, falling by nine percent last year, after a growth surge of 160.8 percent over a period of five years.

DCFS became the first child welfare agency in the nation to embark on accreditation of both itself and the private agencies with whom it contracts. Eight DCFS sites have already received accreditation.

Past recipients of the award include Dick Wagner, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education in 1996; Ruth Rothstein of Cook County Hospital in 1995; Mary Decker, formerly of Cook County's office of capital planning and policy, in 1994; Sr. Sheila Lyne of the Chicago Department of Human Services in 1993; and Robert Belcaster, formerly of the Chicago Transportation Authority, in 1992.

McDonald was appointed director of DCFS in June, 1994 by Gov. Jim Edgar. Prior to that, he served as the director of the Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. As director, McDonald is responsible for overseeing an agency that serves Illinois’ most vulnerable children, with a budget of $1.3 billion. McDonald is also the recipient of the 1996 Award for Excellence in Public Welfare Administration from the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators.


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