The Growth of Substitute Care in Illinois from 1990 to 1995
and Its Impact on Permanency; Improvements in Subsequent Years
In 1990, Illinois had 20,753 children in substitute care, which was a rate of seven children in care
for every 1,000 children in the state’s child population. By December 1995, there were 49,156
children in substitute care, a substitute care rate of 17.2 per thousand children in the total state
population, which was the highest in the nation. During the same time period, the national
median rate of substitute care only increased from 4.8 to 6.3 per 1,000 (Statistics: Child Welfare
League of America). The number of children that entered substitute care increased each year
from SFY90 to SFY95 and peaked in SFY95. For example, the number of children who entered
substitute care increased from 11,162 in SFY93, to 13,853 in SFY94, and to 15,254 in SFY95.
Subsequent system improvements, discussed below, addressed and corrected this problem.
A number of factors contributed to the growth of the DCFS caseload. For example, a series of
high profile abuse and neglect cases accentuated the growth of intake by creating a climate of
fear among caseworkers and other professionals in the child welfare system. Another factor that
contributed to this growth was the practice of bringing children into care when parents were
absent, even if the child was living safely with relatives. Additionally, the decline in permanency
achievement also explains why the caseload in Illinois grew so rapidly between 1990 and 1995.
This growth in caseloads consumed human and financial resources that otherwise would have
gone toward moving children to permanency. During this time, the permanency crisis was
hidden because the raw number of children leaving the system increased slowly. However, the
rate of permanency achievement fell significantly. In 1990, 35 percent of DCFS wards reached
permanency. By 1995, the permanency rate dropped to 17 percent statewide, with Cook County
wards moving to permanency at yearly rate of 8 percent. As a result, the average child in foster
care stayed in care longer. In SFY97, downstate children remained in substitute care an average
of 30 months and in Cook County, the average was 60 months – twice as long as any other major
metropolitan area in the United States.
The growth in the substitute care population continued until SFY96 at which point the number of
children who entered substitute care began to decline. The number of children who entered
substitute care in SFY96 was 11,195, which subsequently declined to 8,949 in SFY97, to 7,405
in SFY98, to 6,685 in SFY99, and to 5,736 in SFY00. In FY 01 the number of children who
entered substitute care further declined to 5,454, and in FY 02 to 4,956. In FY 03, 4,786 children
entered substitute care and in FY 04 the number was 4,633. These declines were a result of a
number of progressive service reform measures and federal and state legislation outlined below.
Home of Relatives Reform (HMR) reform, implemented in 1995, ended the practice of bringing
children into care who were safely living with relatives. Other changes at the “front end,” along
with partnership with the juvenile courts have brought the intake of new foster cases under
control. However, even at the peak of intake in 1995, Illinois placed children in substitute care at
a rate comparable to the national median.
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