For more than three decades, the ACLU of Illinois has fought to protect the rights of families entangled with the so-called child welfare system. We focused on “youth in care” because when youth are taken into State custody, they frequently are placed in circumstances ripe for abuse. Yet, these youth frequently see their rights trampled without redress – all on the State’s watch – in a “foster care” system far more aptly named the “family regulation system.”
Injustices like these led us to file the BH v. Smith federal class action lawsuit on behalf of youth removed from their families and deprived of basic services and safe living conditions while in government custody. The systemic changes we are seeking on behalf of our clients in B.H. remain urgent and necessary. But in recent years, we have broadened our policy advocacy work because Illinois’ foster youth interface with a bureaucratic, constitutionally offensive system that purports to protect them when it actually impinges on their freedoms, including their rights to maintain relationships with family members, be free from mistreatment by foster parents and case workers, live in the least restrictive family-like setting, receive services regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and make age-appropriate decisions about their own bodies.
Throughout this policy guide, the ACLU of Illinois outlines transformative changes urgently needed to protect the freedoms of people who come into contact with the family regulation system. With careful consideration and cautious investment, this goal can be achieved limiting harm to youth and families across Illinois.