gillespie 032423SPRINGFIELD — Youth in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services often have several adults speaking on their behalf regarding what is in their best interest. To ensure youth have a say in their future and guaranteed legal representation, State Senator Ann Gillespie passed legislation out of the Senate on Friday.

“Youth in care are the experts when it comes to what they need; they should have a say in the decisions being made about their lives,” said Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights). “This legislation gives youth in care an attorney who will elevate their voice and advocate for their wishes.”

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 inform youth of their right to an attorney in child welfare proceedings. The legislation also creates the Due Process for Youth Oversight Commission to oversee implementation, which will be comprised of lawmakers, legal and judicial experts in juvenile law, social workers and DCFS administrators.

“Illinois has one of the longest lengths of stay in the U.S. for youth seeking placement,” said Gillespie. “Appointing legal counsel to these children ensures they are seen and heard when it comes to permanency goals, visitation and other needs.”

Senate Bill 1478 now moves to the House for further consideration.