For the Good of the Group 239
legal context issue, they are limited in scope as to what they can advocate for.25 Additionally,
Illinois and several other states can sometimes provide child representatives who represent the
wishes of children as opposed to solely advocating for their best interests, but typically they are
only appointed in domestic relations cases.26 Therefore, because the contexts in which the GAL
or child representative can act are limited, even when children obtain this representation, they are
often still voiceless in advocating for their other needs after they have been removed from their
parents’ care and put in the child welfare system.
Not only do children struggle to find a voice within their individual cases, but they are
systematically excluded from assisting in creating child welfare policy. Although every state has
an individual child welfare system in place, these systems are not always effective at protecting
children, as is evidenced by the children who fall through the cracks, whether that be by spending
too long in a temporary home, being transferred between multiple foster homes, not receiving
proper services, being taken from their parents unjustly, or one of myriad other potential problems
that could arise in flawed state systems.27 While some systems work better than others, every state
has children who are hurt by the policy framework intended to protect them.
I. ILLINOIS CHILD WELFARE BACKGROUND
To understand the impact of child welfare class actions in Illinois, it is important to
understand the trajectory of how the child welfare system has developed in the state, especially
considering the class action suits discussed here against the Illinois Department of Children and
Family Services (DCFS). Illinois has consistently been on the forefront of many legislative
changes involving children. DCFS was established on January 1, 1964 and was the first cabinet-level state child welfare agency.28 Prior to the creation of DCFS, child welfare efforts were a part
of the Department of Mental Health.29 Illinois also housed the first juvenile court, was one of the
first states to pass child protection laws, and implemented one of the nation’s first child abuse
hotlines.30 However, legislative progress has come in waves and often caused the pendulum of
child welfare practices to swing between extremes, frequently going too far one way.
The mission of DCFS is to protect abused and neglected children, increase families’
capacities to care for children, provide permanent families, support early intervention, and partner
with communities.31 DCFS offers a range of services and interventions to fulfill this mission, such
as providing temporary out-of-home placements, finding foster parents, offering parenting classes,
providing treatment programs for parents, and more. The number of children served by DCFS has
ranged from 4,000 in 1964, the year it was established, to 51,000 in 1997; currently, it serves
approximately 15,000 children per year.32 The number has not only varied as a result of the agency
25 Child Representative/Guardian Ad Litem, CIR. CT. OF COOK COUNTY,
ardianAdLitemGAL.aspx (last visited Mar. 29, 2017) [hereinafter Child Representative].
26 750 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. § 5/506.
27 Sandra Stukes Chipungu & Tricia B. Bent-Goodley, Meeting the Challenges of Contemporary Foster Care, 14
CHILD., FAM., AND FOSTER CARE 1 (2004).
28 About DCFS, ILL. DEP’T. CHILD. FAM. SERV. https://www.illinois.gov/dcfs/aboutus/Pages/ab_about.aspx (last
visited June 1, 2017).