Archive for January 2009

How to Protect Illinois Kids against Abuse and Neglect? First–Know a Trailer Furnace Repairman

January 19, 2009

Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley Executive Director Dave McClure explains that in the effort to protect Illinois children from abuse and neglect it helps to have a telephone number for a mobile home furnace repairman…

I was a little worried about what to write this morning.  I had wanted to update you on Sam and his school but didn’t have a chance to talk to my staff about it.  The weather made this week hectic.  Today is no different.  One of our young outreach workers began asking me questions before I could get my coat off and on the hook.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, however you look at it, I have grown into a role as a sort of answer man about odd community resources.  I’ve been around a long time.  They think I should know.

“Where can I find someone to work on a camper furnace?”

“Why do you ask?” I had an idea about the answer.  This was not going to be a relative who was getting his fifth wheel trailer in shape for a trip to the Rio Grande valley.  It was going to be a bad situation.

“Well, I have this family” she began “and they’re living in a campground in this trailer.  Pretty big trailer really but the furnace went out.”

“What are they doing for heat?” I asked.  It was, after all, 16 degrees below zero.

“Space heaters” she said “they’ve been hauling water for a while.  Remember? This is the family I was going to take a turkey to at Christmas but they said they would burn up too much propane cooking it so I cooked it here at the office and took it to them.”

“They’re in a state park?” I asked.  They’ve closed several state parks this year.  I was trying to imagine where they were, huddled in this camper with space heaters.

“Private park.  The husband is on disability. The mom was off work due to an injury but is now laid off.   The youngest is autistic and receives SSI.  So they’re making it on his disability and SSI.  Four kids, three dogs.  The smallest dog bit me when I took the turkey over.  I’ve only had them” (she meant known of the family since they were referred for help) “a month.”  Social workers anticipate questions and talk a kind of clipped language among themselves.  She had just given me a terribly short run down on their situation to speed up the conversation.  She was telling me they had no money.  She was asking me how she can get their heat fixed, keep the kids warm, and help provide for the simplest of needs for a family for whom she felt responsible.

“Call Bill Mucci” I said.  Bill is the plumbing and sheet metal guy who installed our furnace at YSB.  “He probably doesn’t do trailers but he’ll know who does. Wait I have his number.”  And so my first task of the day was getting Bill’s number off my computer, giving it to my worker, and starting the ball rolling towards warmth for a local family.  “Let me know what you find out.  Their outfit could just be frozen up, or maybe they are out of gas and don’t know it.  Let’s hope it’s simple.”  You can hope it’s simple, but it never is.

“They can go to the PADS shelter at anytime.  Make sure they know that.”

“They know that” she said “they’re concerned about the dogs.”

After hearing about the cooked turkey I remembered her talking about this family.  They were referred by a school social worker who was concerned about the oldest girl who was displaying some behavior problems in school.  There was an incident of head lice.  Hygiene was a concern.  When you don’t have a lot of water hygiene is always a problem.  We take so much for granted.  The phrase “they’re concerned about the dogs” stuck in my head.  They’re concerned about the dogs.

It’s easy to judge parents for the decisions they make, for the beliefs they hold, for their behavior.  “They’re concerned about the dogs.”  How about being concerned about the kids?  I love dogs.  I live with a dog and have always lived with dogs.  But would you keep your kids in a cold house because you were concerned about the dogs?

The best example I’ve encountered of keeping your reaction to the values expressed by others in perspective came from an unlikely source.  I was at an early meeting of the local food pantry board of directors discussing the behavior and sobriety of an adult picking up food.  The discussion was drifting towards banishing that adult from getting food at the pantry because he had offended one of our volunteers.  The oldest member of the board, a soft spoken and quiet woman who had run a small charity food operation at her church, found an opening in the conversation and asked the group a simple question:

“Aren’t there children living in that man’s house?”

The group became quiet.  “I think so.”  The food pantry manager looked up the family’s card in the file and reported “Five.”

“Should we deny the children in his house food because of his behavior?”

That pretty much killed the discussion.  I try to keep that meeting in mind when I find myself disgusted with parents.

“Let me know what Bill Mucci tells you” I told my young worker and dove into my day.

An hour later I heard back from my worker.  “Bill called me back” she said “and he knows a guy.  I have a call in to him.”


“What about payment?” she said.

“Tell the guy we’ll pay” I said “we’ll sort it out after the heat’s back on.  That’s why we’re raising funds.”

YSB, through our young social worker, will hopefully get a chance to address that girl’s behavior in school, as was requested.  Quite probably the girl, and her family, will see her YSB worker as a source of steady contact, sound advice, and as a good role model.  Today though, YSB’s job was to get the heat back on.  First things first.  YSB may influence better decisions by the adults in that house on housing options.  We may even find a way to help them help with their dogs.  But for now, with the help of our donors, we’re going to help them fix that furnace.  If you’re reading this in a warm house, don’t take it for granted.  Stay warm.  Take care of your kids.  Be good to your dog.  And keep it all in perspective.

Dave McClure–January 16, 2009


Our Opinion: Chicago Tribune Article Correctly Identifies Illinois Foster Children Housing Problems, Ignores Difficult Solutions

January 7, 2009

A recent Tribune article fortunately reveals that Illinois’ child welfare system is struggling to find appropriate housing for several hundred foster children burdened by mental illness and severe behavior problems (“Hundreds of DCFS kids left in limbo in inappropriate settings, Cook County guardian finds,” December 22, Tribune), but unfortunately the article failed to address the complexity required to solve the problem.

The problem is that the state simply cannot build and staff multi-million dollar residential housing units and “wrap around” care programs for a few hundred foster kids and then allow the facilities and programs to sit dormant for months if the same types of kids aren’t constantly available without incurring enormous expense.

The clinical heart of residential care is creating a group setting, not creating an isolated, single-child setting. However, if DCFS could develop the high-end residential care needed now for the kids “waiting”, it would need at least an additional 200 residential slots.

And DCFS must be willing to “pay” for empty beds at any given time, in order to have “on demand” care. The Child Care Association of Illinois estimates that such an residential care system would cost an estimated $50 million annually to develop and maintain.

In addition to more residential facilities, DCFS would need expanded “wrap-around” care for families. This care involves daily visits from a therapist, 3 times weekly mentoring visits, or a nurse making regular checkups, one-on-one tutoring or school companion, and respite several hours per week provided to a parent or foster parent.

Wrap-around care has been proven to work with many kids who otherwise would have been in a group home, detention or for whom a residential slot is unavailable. However, it could take 6-8 months to develop such expanded care and could cost the state nearly $35 million.

Insufficient housing and care for foster children struggling with mental illness and behavior problems can be addressed—but only with substantial investments of money, time, and patience.