DePaul’s Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center recently held a Distinguished Lecture featuring guest speaker George H. Sheldon, Director of the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS). The lecture focused on Sheldon and the agency’s reform efforts of improving outcomes for children and families.
Sheldon began his presentation by explaining that for much of its history, child welfare services solely focused on the child’s safety by removing abused or neglected children from unstable and unsafe home environments. Sheldon believes that at the center of a child’s well-being lies a secure and healthy attachment to a committed, responsible adult. This core belief motivates the efforts made on behalf of DCFS to provide a positive and enduring adult attachment for children in its care. To accomplish this goal, DCFS focuses on three broad areas: family strengthening and preservation to keep children from coming into foster care; stability and family-centered care during the time in foster care; and timely permanency through adoption, permanent guardianship or reunification. Sheldon highlighted the love children have for their parents, even when they are imperfect by stating, “If we can find a way to strengthen families, by dealing with mental illness or substance abuse or anger or inadequate parental skills, we can keep that family together and avoid having children come into foster care.”
Through his reform efforts at the agency, Sheldon hopes to improve the lives of children and youth who come into the child welfare system by placing more of them in permanent homes. In Cook County alone, there are currently more than 400 children and youth in DCFS’s care that have been in the system for more than 10 years.
In closing, Sheldon encouraged law students to get involved with these issues by considering a law career in child advocacy. He also answered questions from a variety of topics including Governor Rauner’s Executive Order, which eliminates the use of the term “ward” from child welfare parlance in Illinois and “Normalcy legislation”, which grants foster parents the same kind of decision-making authority for children in their care as other parents and removes bureaucratic hurdles.