Sen. Ann Gillespie

SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Ann Gillespie and child welfare advocates announced legislation that would provide youth in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services with legal representation on Wednesday.

“Children and youth with lived experience in our child welfare system have overwhelmingly voiced their desire to be seen, heard and represented,” said Gillespie. “We must join the vast majority of states that provide legal representation to youth in care so that our most vulnerable have expert help in leaving the foster care system and can go on to live safe, dignified lives.”

Illinois is one of seven states that does not guarantee legal counsel to at least some youth in care, and one of 14 states that does not guarantee legal representation for all children in child welfare proceedings. Without legal representation, children are left to navigate complex proceedings on their own, putting them at risk of receiving unfair treatment or having vital decisions about their future made without their input.

Senate Bill 1478 amends the Foster Children’s Bill of Rights Act to include the right to an attorney in child welfare proceedings. The legislation creates a commission to oversee implementation, including lawmakers, legal and judicial experts in juvenile law, social workers, and administration from DCFS.

“As a former youth in care I know the importance of representation and having a voice in the decision process,” said Representative Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago), sponsor of the legislation in the Illinois House. “This important piece of legislation will give a voice to youth in care who often times feel as though they don’t have a voice in their current situation or the future of their wellbeing.”

Senate Bill 1478 awaits committee assignment.