Illinois House child welfare committee discusses family recovery bills

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) — Illinois could soon have a new task force to address the needs of infants born with prenatal substance exposure and their families or caregivers. 

House Bill 1468 could create the task force chaired by an OB-GYN and pediatrician specialized in child abuse and neglect. Advocates told the House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee Friday that the Departments of Children and Family Services, Human Services, and Public Health would also be at the table to help figure out how the state can best implement a safe family recovery approach.

“Children should not be removed solely because of substances used, but only when there is an actual identified risk to the child that cannot be mitigated with supports,” said Danielle Gomez, supervising attorney for the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office.

Gomez explained the majority of children aren’t brought to court solely because they are exposed to controlled substances. Rep. La Shawn Ford’s (D-Chicago) bill could repeal state law that requires DCFS to report all substance-exposed infants to local state’s attorneys. The legislation would also task DCFS with developing a standardized child abuse prevention and treatment notification form that is separate and distinct from the form currently used for written confirmation reports of child abuse or neglect.

Meanwhile, the longest-serving Illinois House Democrat believes children should not be considered abused, neglected, or dependent solely because their parents or guardians use controlled substances. Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) has long been an advocate for keeping families together instead of forcing kids into DCFS care. 

Flowers told her colleagues Friday that DCFS should focus more time and effort on strengthening families. She argues that Illinois has penalized and ostracized Black mothers leading to higher maternal mortality.

“We do not take a newborn baby away from her mother and indicate the parents for neglect because she smokes cigarettes,” Flowers said. “Nor do we take the child away from the mother because she does alcohol while she’s pregnant. But we do it because of substance abuse.”

No advocates testified in support or opposition of the Flowers bill.

African Americans make up 14% of the total population in Illinois, but 42% of the children in DCFS care are Black. Representatives hope to address that concerning statistic by passing a plan to keep more families together.

Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago) said current state law makes family separation too easy, particularly in under-served communities. Slaughter explained DCFS is only required to make reasonable efforts to maintain and reunite families. He would like to see the statute change to active efforts.

“Separating children from families also impacts the community by destabilizing its position,” said Aaron Goldstein, an attorney with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office. “If families are the trees of a community, then consistent child separation destroys the roots.”

Goldstein said the state can begin to protect children, prevent family separation, and move towards racial equity by passing this plan. Under House Bill 2885, active efforts would be affirmative, active, timely, and intended actions to maintain or reunite a child with their family.

Each of these bills are locked in the House Rules Committee. Although, language can always be filled into shell bills to pass before session ends next month.

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April 14, 2023 at 06:49PM

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