Office of the Cook County Public Guardian

Office of the Cook County Public Guardian Advocates for Cook County's most vulnerable who, due to age or disability, can't fight for themselves

We are committed to sharing resources, collaborating, and educating the community on issues that impact the wellbeing of...
11/29/2023

We are committed to sharing resources, collaborating, and educating the community on issues that impact the wellbeing of those we serve. This week, Kristy Duganzic, an investigator in our Juvenile Division, moderated a panel discussion on protecting children from human trafficking. She was joined by representatives from The Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, FBI, Cook County State's Attorney's Office, Stop-It, and Reclaim13. Thank you to Calumet Middle School and Calumet Public School District 132 for hosting the event.

This weekend, the Public Guardian’s Office came together with staff from Lawrence Hall and other friends of the child we...
11/20/2023

This weekend, the Public Guardian’s Office came together with staff from Lawrence Hall and other friends of the child welfare community to celebrate with the Foster Care Alumni of America - Illinois Chapter at their annual Thanksgiving celebration.
Youth in care and alumni enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal, and we all spent the afternoon coming together with those who share the foster care experience and finding kinship with each other as brothers and sisters. Thanks to James McIntyre, April M Rivera-Curtis, Luvis Kitchen at Melrose Place, and everyone else who helped to organize this wonderful event!

Chief Deputy Alpa Jayanti Patel moderated a panel presentation as part of the Supreme Court of Illinois’ 2023 Biennial J...
11/03/2023

Chief Deputy Alpa Jayanti Patel moderated a panel presentation as part of the Supreme Court of Illinois’ 2023 Biennial Juvenile Conference. The panel, which included Dr. Cassandra Ma, the founder and director of Reclaim13, and Amy Alvarado, Human Trafficking Project Coordinator at Life Span, discussed how to safely separate commercially s*xually exploited children from abusive settings and collaborate with community organizations that provide placement and treatment options. More than 150 judges, juvenile probation officers, and attorneys from across the state attended the conference to discuss strategies to improve outcomes for youth impacted by the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Senior attorneys Sarah Donovan, Kevin Jeremiah, and Ulysses Rosales presented at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Ho...
10/31/2023

Senior attorneys Sarah Donovan, Kevin Jeremiah, and Ulysses Rosales presented at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago Child Maltreatment Symposium on best practices when working with LGBTQIA+ youth in care. Their presentation addressed discrimination and hardships encountered by LGBTQIA+ youth, the impact of current policies and laws on our clients, and how to make office culture more inclusive and affirming.

Wendy Cappelletto, senior attorney and director of the public benefits department in our Adult Guardianship Division, pr...
10/30/2023

Wendy Cappelletto, senior attorney and director of the public benefits department in our Adult Guardianship Division, presented at the 19th Annual Elder Law Short Course sponsored by the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE). Cappelletto provided an overview of Medicaid waiver programs and best advocacy practices when working with people with disabilities and seniors.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we would have regular softball matchups between the downtown divisions and the Juvenile di...
10/23/2023

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we would have regular softball matchups between the downtown divisions and the Juvenile division. Over the years these became friendly yet fiercely competitive affairs.

On Saturday, for the first time since the pandemic, we continued this wonderful tradition! It was a beautiful, crisp, perfect fall day, with the trees starting to turn colors, and the game was Chicago-style 16-inch. There were some amazing plays on both sides.

The game was close and suspenseful, but in the ninth inning the Juvenile division managed to eke out a narrow 6-to-4 victory.

We’re already looking forward to next year’s matchup! Until then, here’s a picture to enjoy:

It’s hard to believe but yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the fire at the Cook County Administration Building th...
10/18/2023

It’s hard to believe but yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the fire at the Cook County Administration Building that claimed the lives of our friends and colleagues, John Slater III, Sara Chapman, and Maureen McDonald. We still miss them, 20 years later.

Yesterday we had a special remembrance and tribute. We all came together to share stories and reminisce about these remarkable individuals and their very full lives. We compiled a beautiful video with images going back some 30 years of Maureen, John, and Sara, including pictures from our annual service evenings in their memory and Race Judicata, in which we participate every year in their honor. We also unveiled new plaques of John, Sara, and Maureen that will be dedicated in the conference rooms and children’s playroom that are named after them. As is our tradition, over the course of the day, each of us, individually, performed three random acts of kindness: one for Sara, one for Maureen and one for John.

John, Sara, and Maureen leave an amazing legacy. Here are some pictures, including the new plaques that will be dedicated in the McDonald Conference Room in our downtown office, the Chapman Conference Room in our Juvenile Office, and the Slater Children's Playroom in our downtown office:

Andrea Garland, a senior attorney in our Juvenile Division, presented a training for The Chicago Bar Association’s Adopt...
10/16/2023

Andrea Garland, a senior attorney in our Juvenile Division, presented a training for The Chicago Bar Association’s Adoption Law Committee on the child protection process in Cook County and best practices for adoption attorneys handling foster care adoptions and guardianships. Garland was joined by Amanda Jolly from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and committee co-chair Rachael Toft.

Aaron Goldstein, deputy of operations for the Cook County Public Defender's Office, has a thoughtful Op Ed in the Chicag...
10/11/2023

Aaron Goldstein, deputy of operations for the Cook County Public Defender's Office, has a thoughtful Op Ed in the Chicago Tribune about Marc Smith’s resignation as DCFS’s director, and the challenges DCFS faces moving forward. You can read the Op Ed here:

Gov. J.B. Pritzker should appoint a director who brings a critical eye to to the structure of Illinois' DCFS and its role in separating families.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. One in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience severe physical vio...
10/10/2023

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. One in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. For many, intimate partner violence begins at a young age.

Domestic violence is not only physical. Emotional abuse, intimidation, isolation, and economic abuse are common forms of intimate partner maltreatment. It is important to teach young people the warning signs of abuse, the elements of a healthy relationship, and how to protect themselves and their loved ones from abuse. Please read and share the link below to help young people experiencing domestic violence.

Healthy relationships for young adults can be confusing. Love is more than just the way you feel, and we're here to help.

October is Infant Safe Sleep Awareness Month. Unsafe sleep is a leading cause of death for infants one year and younger....
10/06/2023

October is Infant Safe Sleep Awareness Month. Unsafe sleep is a leading cause of death for infants one year and younger. Please share this post and the linked information from the National Institutes of Health to spread the word about the best ways to help infants sleep safely.

Parents, caregivers, healthcare providers, and others have made great progress in reducing sleep-related deaths in the United States. By placing babies on their backs to sleep for all sleep times, creating a safe sleep environment for baby, and following other evidence-based recommendations from the...

DCFS Director Marc Smith resigned this morning, effective December 31st. The governor’s office announced that there will...
10/04/2023

DCFS Director Marc Smith resigned this morning, effective December 31st. The governor’s office announced that there will be a national search to select Smith’s replacement.

Smith leaves a mixed legacy. On the one hand, in serving for four and a half years, Smith brought much needed consistency in leadership after DCFS rotated through 13 different directors and acting directors over the prior ten years. In addition, DCFS did an excellent job in its handling of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. From top to bottom, people at all levels of the agency stepped up and rose to the occasion. Finally, resources allocated to the agency increased substantially under Smith’s administration.

On the other hand, over four and a half years and despite the increased resources, DCFS has not substantially expanded desperately needed placement capacity. As a result, every year hundreds of children sleep in offices, languish in locked psychiatric hospitals for months after they are cleared for discharge, and remain incarcerated in juvenile jails for months after a judge has ordered them released to their guardian. This causes profound, irreversible damage to children and must be addressed with a sense of urgency. There have also been many high-profile deaths of young children.

There has been substantial press coverage of Smith’s resignation. Here are news reports from the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times:

https://apnews.com/article/illinois-dcfs-marc-d-smith-children-protective-services-contempt-of-court-49ada2700faa46f46a5419cfab347d6a

https://www.chicagotribune.com/politics/ct-marc-smith-dcfs-resigns-20231004-bx7at52zirc2vctbpcs777g2vm-story.html

https://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/2023/10/4/23903234/dcfs-director-marc-smith-resignation-illinois

The director of the embattled Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has announced he will leave the post at year's end. The upcoming departure of Marc D.

Our office will be participating in a job fair sponsored by the Circuit Court of Cook County. The fair is an outstanding...
10/02/2023

Our office will be participating in a job fair sponsored by the Circuit Court of Cook County. The fair is an outstanding opportunity to learn about job opportunities in our office as well as other departments of the Circuit Court. The fair will be on Monday, October 16th, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., on the 22nd floor of the Cook County Administration Building, 69 W. Washington Street, in Chicago.

We are currently hiring attorneys in all three of our divisions: Juvenile, Adult Guardianship, and Domestic Relations. We are also hiring paralegal and clerical positions.

In addition to the job fair, information about job and internship opportunities at our office is available on our website at https://www.publicguardian.org/opportunities/. More information about the job fair is available here:

This week we celebrated the 25th work anniversary of Richard "Rich" Gasik. Rich is a Property Investigator in our Adult ...
09/27/2023

This week we celebrated the 25th work anniversary of Richard "Rich" Gasik. Rich is a Property Investigator in our Adult Guardianship Division, securing and managing real and personal properties of people under our guardianship. Rich's diligence, calm demeanor, and positive attitude are just a few of his valuable contributions to the lives of the people we serve.

Congratulations to Rich for your 25 years of service!

Yesterday, the Illinois Auditor General issued its scathing audit of DCFS's performance over the past 2 years.  “Some of...
09/27/2023

Yesterday, the Illinois Auditor General issued its scathing audit of DCFS's performance over the past 2 years.

“Some of these findings are on repeat, dating back more than 25 years.”

Among 30 major failures documented:

• In the most serious cases involving child death, injury, torture, malnutrition, and s*x abuse, DCFS failed to notify authorities such as the State’s Attorney within 24 hours as required 20% of the time, taking as long as 43 days to do so. The AG has made findings of this violation for more than a decade, since 2012, but DCFS still does not report the most serious abuse in a timely manner, as required, putting children at risk.

• In a remarkable 96% of cases, DCFS failed to promptly notify school districts of indicated reports of abuse, as required. Delays last as long as 908 days, or more than 2 ½ years.

Chris Tye of CBS Chicago has a report about the audit, which features commentary by Chief Deputy Alpa Jayanti Patel:

Last time the state Auditor General updated us, there were 30 major failures by DCFS. This time, it's 33.

Julia Rosier of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has a report about legislation pending that would require DCFS to...
09/25/2023

Julia Rosier of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has a report about legislation pending that would require DCFS to start paying for all inpatient stays at psychiatric hospitals starting the 3rd day that the child has been cleared for discharge, known as “beyond medical necessity” or “BMN,” instead of the 11th day, which is the current law. Rosier’s report features commentary by Danielle Gomez, a senior attorney with our office who coordinates our legislative initiatives. You can watch or read Rosier’s report here:

New changes could be coming to the way the Department of Children and Family Services pays for hospital stays for children.Lawmakers have filed a bill that woul

WBEZ’s Michael Gerstein has a report about a new Transitional Living Program at Lawrence Hall for LGBTQ+ youth in care a...
09/22/2023

WBEZ’s Michael Gerstein has a report about a new Transitional Living Program at Lawrence Hall for LGBTQ+ youth in care ages 17 to 21. The program prides itself on providing an affirming environment. More than half of the program's staff identify as LGBTQ+ and staff receive special training.

Gerstein spoke to youth at the home who told him that they felt welcome and comfortable as compared to previous placements. One teen, Jenny, showed Gerstein the pride flag in her room and told him, "This place is great. Here it's very accepting. I feel at home here."

LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in foster care. Nationally, about a third of youth in care identify as LGBTQ+, and they are at significantly higher risk of experiencing homelessness and harm.

While this is a fantastic start, the program has only 5 beds. We hope to see programs like this expanded throughout the state.

You can read or hear Gerstein's report here:

Nationally, about a third of foster care youth identify as LGBTQ+, and researchers say they are at significantly higher risk of experiencing homelessness and physical harm.

Senior attorneys Danielle Gomez and Elise Melrose, along with Illinois State Senator Lakesia Collins, presented at the o...
09/21/2023

Senior attorneys Danielle Gomez and Elise Melrose, along with Illinois State Senator Lakesia Collins, presented at the on-line national conference of the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC). Gomez, Melrose, and Collins discussed how to identify issues that are ripe for legislative change, strategies to build coalitions of stakeholders with shared interests in child welfare, and insight into successful advocacy for legislative reforms. Gomez and Melrose coordinate our office's legislative initiatives.

Today, Robyn Kane and Lynn Pavalon, senior attorneys in our Juvenile Division, presented to the DeKalb County Child Advo...
09/20/2023

Today, Robyn Kane and Lynn Pavalon, senior attorneys in our Juvenile Division, presented to the DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center, located outside of Atlanta, on effective advocacy for children who require placement outside of their home state through the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC). Kane and Pavalon were invited to provide this training by Charla Dean, an OPG alum and a supervising attorney at the DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center.

Navigating the ICPC in 50 plus states and territories can be a daunting task, as the ICPC regulations are the same in each state and territory but the focus and application of each can be different.

Children of color are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system and therefore are often placed in congregate care facilities instead of foster homes. The ICPC is an avenue that can be used to broaden the pool of potential placements by including family members and others who live outside of their home state in the placement process.

This week, a criminal trial is taking place in McHenry County against the DCFS investigator and supervisor assigned to A...
09/14/2023

This week, a criminal trial is taking place in McHenry County against the DCFS investigator and supervisor assigned to AJ Freund, who was killed by his parents in 2019. Although AJ was just 5 years old, DCFS had extensive prior involvement with the family including 10 reports of abuse or neglect from police, hospital staff, and neighbors. AJ’s case made national news.

While there’s no question that the investigator and supervisor failed AJ, in an op ed that appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 2020 when the felony child endangerment charges were filed, Public Guardian Charles Golbert argued that criminal charges against child welfare professionals are inappropriate in such cases and bad public policy from the point of view of child safety.

First, the specter of criminal charges if a child is hurt might prevent good people from entering child welfare, a field notorious for low pay, long hours, lots of bureaucracy, and high stress. Moreover, every day caseworkers and investigators must make hard decisions about child safety, and need a certain amount of leeway to do their jobs effectively. We don’t want workers removing every child they come in contact with out of fear of criminal – on top of civil and professional – liability should something happen to the child.

There’s also concern about politicizing prosecutions in such cases. The year that AJ died, 122 other children also died despite having contact with DCFS during the prior 12 months in cases that did not become front-page national news.

Finally, responsibility also lies with the top bureaucrats at DCFS, which is a dysfunctional mess. The investigator in AJ’s case labored under a caseload more than 50% higher than that ordered by a federal consent decree. If DCFS’s line workers are to face felony charges for poor casework when a child is harmed, perhaps the high-level bureaucrats at DCFS should face criminal contempt charges for their longstanding violations of the caseload and other mandates of the federal court order.

While we all want something meaningful to result from AJ’s death, prosecuting and jailing child welfare professionals is not the answer. You can read Golbert’s op ed here:

Criminal charges against child welfare professionals in such cases are rare. From the point of view of child safety, it’s unclear whether criminal prosecutions are good policy.

Julia Rosier of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has an excellent 3-part series on a new public dashboard that DCF...
09/11/2023

Julia Rosier of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has an excellent 3-part series on a new public dashboard that DCFS launched to provide certain data to the public, updated daily. While any initiative that improves transparency is good, as Rosier reports, the dashboard is lacking key data. There is no information for critical outcome indicators such as incidents of abuse, maltreatment, and death in care. The dashboard tracks the percentage of children who are seen at some point during a child abuse investigation which, by regulation, can last as long as 60 days and often lasts longer. However, DCFS is supposed to see the child within the first 24 hours. Therefore, the more helpful and relevant metrics would be percentage of children who are seen within 24, 48, and 72 hours after a hotline call, how many investigations are completed within 60 days, and the median length of investigations. The dashboard does not track any mental health data, and physical health data is limited to one metric: the percentage of children who saw one health provider over the past year.

When asked to comment, DCFS said that it “absolutely agrees with anybody that would like to see additional information on the dashboard” and that additional data will be provided within six months. We intend to hold DCFS to this promise.

You can read or watch Rosier’s series, which includes links to the dashboard, here:

https://newschannel20.com/news/local/dcfs-launches-new-child-welfare-dashboard

https://newschannel20.com/newsletter-daily/child-advocates-say-the-new-dcfs-dashboard-is-a-baby-step

https://newschannel20.com/news/local/dcfs-the-average-length-of-time-for-a-child-to-spend-in-foster-in-illinois-is-almost-three-years

A new dashboard will allow the public to see new insights and data about the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

The OPG was well represented at Race Judicata, a 5K that benefits Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS). It was a beau...
09/04/2023

The OPG was well represented at Race Judicata, a 5K that benefits Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS). It was a beautiful evening, and the route took us through Lincoln Park and along the lakefront. One of our attorneys, Megan Sippl, finished in 11th place among all the woman runners with a blistering time of 22:26.

Every year we participate in Race Judicata in celebration of the very full lives of John Slater III, Sara Chapman, and Maureen McDonald. They were exceptional people and longtime advocates with our office who died in the fire at the Cook County Administration Building on October 17, 2003. We still miss them, 20 years later.

Enjoy these pictures of the event!

This week we celebrated the 25th work anniversaries of Jeff Mancilla and Wendy Cappelletto.Jeff is a property investigat...
09/01/2023

This week we celebrated the 25th work anniversaries of Jeff Mancilla and Wendy Cappelletto.

Jeff is a property investigator in our Adult Guardianship Division, securing and managing real and personal properties of people under our guardianship. He is hard-working, pragmatic, even-keeled, and a talented, published photographer.

Wendy is a senior attorney and director of public benefits and policy for our Adult Guardianship Division. She is a national leader in the elder law bar including, among many other appointments, serving as the national president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

Congratulations to Jeff and Wendy for your 25 years of service!

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69 West Washington Street, Suite 700
Chicago, IL
60602

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