Some Illinois lawmakers are considering authorizing a tool that other states use to help struggling foster parents or, if warranted, weed them out of the demanding work: an exit interview in which kids age 5 and older are asked about their experience living there.
Were their basic needs met? Did they feel comfortable and safe? Have enough to eat? Get help with their schoolwork if they needed it? What were their foster parents’ attitudes toward the child’s biological parents or siblings?
These are some of the kinds of questions, framed age appropriately, that caseworkers, mental health providers and clinicians will ask if House Bill 4304 becomes law. The measure has passed muster with a handful of House committees and is now ready to be taken up by the full House.
If the interviewees say anything that raises concerns about whether the foster parents were potentially running afoul of their licensing terms, those concerns would be turned over to others for investigation. If it’s determined that the foster parent could be quickly corrected through training or advice, that would take place. If the conduct is more serious — abuse or neglect — a Department of Children and Family Services investigation could lead to the foster parent losing their license or even criminal charges.
For children whose mental health provider believes the exit interview would not be good for the child, it would be waived.
“We thought it was really important to document how the child feels,” Cook County Public Guardian representative Danielle Gomez told KFVS12. “When you document that and maintain that information, if it is significant and it is a lingering problem that lingers even after the licensing rep has talked to the foster parent and worked with the foster parent, you’ll start to see that from what children are reporting coming out of the home.”
Rep. Lakesia Collins (D) said she is championing the bill because of her lived experience in care. The Chicago lawmaker said she and her siblings were moved out of homes “like a revolving door.”
Research shows a stable placement in a family-like environment is strongly linked to positive outcomes for youth who have experienced trauma.