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Macon County community leaders making a difference in the lives of vulnerable families

On September 14, 2018, community organizers and human service stakeholders from Macon County met to re-establish their community coalition called the Permanency Enhancement Project (PEP) Action Team of Macon County.

PEP of Macon County was active from 2008 to 2015, but human service budget cuts and staffing shortages within the partner organizations resulted in the coalition becoming inactive. In fall 2018 with support from the Decatur Primed for Life Family Advocacy Center, the Center for Child Welfare and Adoption at Illinois State University, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, PEP of Macon County re-convened with a renewed objective to improve outcomes for children and families who are involved with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Specifically, the group seeks to influence child welfare policy, juvenile court policy, and improve access to community-based resources that promote child and family well-being. The group also has a goal of examining systemic factors that may contribute to a disproportionate number of children of color within the child welfare system.

PEP of Macon County is part of a consortium of action team coalitions across Illinois that gather to review child welfare data and propose creative solutions to the problem of young children entering and remaining in the Illinois foster care system without family permanency.

According to the Macon County PEP FY2018 Annual Data Report, there were 482 children in the foster care system in 2017 with children ages 0–5 making up the majority (58 percent) of new Macon County foster care cases. The data also indicates that African American children in Macon County are twice as likely to enter into foster care as Caucasian children.

While foster care is an important safety net service to prevent children from abuse and neglect, the group discussed the societal factors that create the conditions for vulnerable families to lose their children to the foster care system. Some of those large-scale community factors include poverty, unemployment, bias among decision-makers, and lack of treatment for substance misuse.

Community members also noted the need for community groups to partner with local employers to promote more living wage job opportunities for individuals re-entering the workforce following incarceration. The need for community input into the child welfare and juvenile court decision-making process was also discussed. In the coming months, the group looks forward to tackling difficult issues, engaging with the community, drafting proposals, and working on change for the betterment of youth in Macon County.

For more information about the Macon County Action Team coalition, contact:

  • Michael Burns, Illinois permanency enhancement project community organizer at mburns1215@msn.com
  • Doris Houston, interim director, school of social work/director, Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies at Illinois State University at dmhous2@ilstu.edu

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