If July 1 turns into a "doomsday" for state-funded human services, thousands of children in foster care could lose their homes within three months, according to the Childcare Association of Illinois.
The advocacy group organized a standing-room only rally today in Chicago's James R. Thompson Center to propose severe funding cuts and to encourage lawmakers to find a better way to balance an out-of-whack state budget. Democrats approved a so-called bare bones budget May 31 that would fund human services at half the level proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn, who said he does not intend to sign the budget into law because it carries a $9.2 billion deficit and would require devastating cuts to services for the most vulnerable citizens.
The Childcare Association of Illinois said that within 90 days of the proposed budget taking effect, monthly state payments to foster parents would be cut in half. CORRECTION: The state currently pays $384 per foster child in a home. When the fiscal year begins July 1, that payment would reduce to $192. Caretakers described the decrease as drastic and said it could require families to return the foster children to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Rhonda Hansen, who raises four foster children between ages 4 and 7, faces that possibility. She attended the rally and later said in a phone interview that she not only couldn't afford to care for the children on her part-time wages of $800 a month, but she also couldn't keep working if she lost her childcare services through DCFS.
Foster children cannot be left with a friend or relative unless the individual has gone through a background check and been approved by DCFS, she said.
She added that she worries about what would happen to the children if she gave them up. For instance, two of the children were removed from their original home, Hansen said, after findings of severe neglect and physical abuse by their mother, who is now serving time in prison. They also were removed from a second foster home because, she said, relatives also neglected them. They are both in therapy, another service Hansen said they stand to lose if the budget isn't changed.
“I can't bear thinking about making that call to someone telling them to come get them,” she said.
If Quinn signed the budget as approved by Democrats, about 9,000 foster parents could be affected, according to David Ormsby of the Childcare Association of Illinois.
Gladys Boyd, president of the association and a foster parent in Richton Park, said she, too, would have to return her children to DCFS if the state cuts reimbursement levels.
"These politicians should be ashamed of themselves," she said. "Completely ashamed."
The governor and legislative leaders have been meeting behind closed doors since June 1. Lawmakers are scheduled return to Springfield for a special session Tuesday, seven days before the new fiscal year starts without a budget in place. Quinn's goal is to approve a state income tax increase to avoid cutting or eliminating funding to human services. However, legislative leaders said yesterday that there doesn't appear to be enough support for an income tax increase as early as next week.
This is not the first time DCFS has experienced massive cuts. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the state's child welfare system was in chaos, Ormsby said. More than 50,000 children were in the system at that time, which prompted the state to house them in welfare agencies, where they slept on cots.
Today, there are about 16,000 foster care children in the system. Ormsby said more than half of them could face the same fate.
“This time, with so many cuts, they will be drawing out the pool of foster care parents to some degree,” he said. “Many of the agencies themselves will simply go out of business because of the enormity of the cuts.”