While African American children are 15 percent of the population in the state of Illinois, they make up more than 53 percent of the children in the state’s foster care system.

Illinois State University and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) hope to give communities the tools to combat this inequality at an upcoming conference that will attract hundreds of social workers, prospective foster parents and first responders from throughout Illinois. Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize: 21st Annual Conference on African American Child Well-Being and Family Permanency will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, June 7, at the Bone Student Center.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is due May 31. To register, or for additional information, go online.

“The 21st Annual Conference on African American Child Well-Being and Family Permanency will provide an opportunity for the community to come together with policy makers, researchers, judges, social work practitioners and concerned citizens to engage in informed dialogue about the issues facing vulnerable families and children who are at risk of entering the foster care system,” said Doris Houston, associate director of the Center for Adoption Studies at Illinois State.

At the conference, national experts will share strategies for strengthening families and communities and overcoming structural barriers within the child welfare system. Workshops at the conference will focus on ways to encourage permanency for African American families and all families within the state. Sessions will include recruiting and sustaining quality foster homes for children, anti-racism training for court personnel, and strategies to improve responses to African American males in the child welfare system. A complete list can be found online when registering.

“There are approximately 5,000 African American children in the foster care system in Illinois, and more than half of them will remain in foster care for more than three years,” said Houston. “The goal is to get children back into a stable family environment, whether by strengthening their family ties or getting them adopted into a new family that lasts.”

The conference will also include multicultural vendors and artists, a foster and adoptive parent recruitment booth and an afternoon cultural presentation.

The 21st Annual Conference on African American Child Well-Being and Family Permanency is sponsored by Illinois State’s Center for Adoption Studies at the School of Social Work and the DCFS African American Advisory Council. Support also comes from the University’s Office of the President, School of Social Work and American Democracy Project.

For additional information, contact Anne Cook of the School of Social Work at (309) 438-8187.