Our 18-year-old client, Ieisha Banks, has been writing every day since she was nine years old. During difficult times, Ieisha turns to writing as an emotional outlet and as a way to keep her mind focused on her goals. She has composed many poems, short stories, and plays over the years, continuously learning new skills and cultivating her talent. As a testament to her gift as a writer, the Chicago Tribune and the Anti-Defamation League awarded Ieisha second place in their First Amendment Freedoms essay contest in the fall of 2012. Her essay was chosen out of over 1,500 applicants. In her winning submission, Ieisha explained why freedom of press is important to her. She said “[w]hen I write, I have no barriers, no rules, no set structure, no one who overpowers me. I can write what I want, make my words flow in time to the beat of my own heart, and make no apologies for the art that I leave imprinted upon a page.” In addition to her accomplishments as a writer, Ieisha has excelled academically and as a leader at her high school. She is the vice-president of her school newspaper and participates in the Senior Board, Advisory Board, and Student Exchange Board. As a result of her hard work, ten universities have accepted her for the 2013-2014 school year, including DePaul University, Southern Illinois University and Ball State University. Ieisha plans to study creative writing in college and aspires to one day write novels for teenagers and young adults. *Ieisha’s full name is used with her permission.
Veronica, Danielle, Jasmine and Christopher D.*
Veronica, Danielle, Jasmine, and Christopher are siblings who had been in DCFS care for most of their lives. For many years, the children’s mother, Ms. D., was unable to maintain her sobriety and complete services so that her children could safely return to her care. By 2006, the court had terminated Ms. D.’s parental rights with respect to all four children, with the understanding that the children’s foster parents wanted to adopt them. However, the foster parents did not adopt. And in January 2010, DCFS had to remove the children from the foster home. Although DCFS moved them to a new foster home, the children were in need of a new long-term plan. Throughout the years they were in foster care, the children and Ms. D. had consistently visited one another and had developed a positive relationship. In addition, by 2010, Ms. D. had maintained her sobriety for over three years and successfully completed drug treatment. With knowledge of a relatively new Illinois law that allowed the court to reinstate parental rights, an attorney from our office met with the children and explained the new legal options available to their family. After counseling our clients, each reported a desire for the court to reinstate Ms. D.’s parental rights, which would give them the chance to one day return to her care. Then, at our office’s request, DCFS convened a clinical staffing to address the family’s needs and determine what services would help support Ms. D. and the children as they worked toward reunification. In December 2010, our office advocated for our clients in support of DCFS’ motion to reinstate Ms. D.’s parental rights. The court granted DCFS’ motion and Ms. D. began participating in the services necessary to have her children returned to her. Over the course of several months, Ms. D. engaged in all recommended services and demonstrated that she was able to care for her children. The court then allowed Veronica, Danielle, Jasmine, and Christopher to return home to their mother. While Veronica has chosen to no longer live with Ms. D., Danielle, Jasmine, and Christopher remain in their mother’s home. All four clients are doing well and have benefitted from their renewed connection with their mother.
Our client, Ruby O., is enrolled in the high school honors program at a Chicago Public School. Due to her academic achievements, she had an opportunity to attend a one-month summer program at Princeton University in 2011. The program was geared toward preparing students for careers in government and would allow Ruby to earn college credit. Ruby did not think she’d be able to attend because she could not afford to pay for the cost of the program and travel expenses. Our office sought out funding to ensure that Ruby would be able to take advantage of this unique opportunity that she had worked so hard for. We wrote letters to Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) administrators and to Our Community of Illinois, Inc. (OCI), a non-profit organization, requesting money to help cover the cost of the program. In addition, an attorney from our office took Ruby to meet with DCFS administrators to discuss Princeton’s summer program and Ruby’s desire to attend. Ultimately, DCFS agreed to cover the costs for Ruby to attend the program and OCI donated an additional stipend for Ruby’s trip expenses. Ruby successfully completed the program and earned college credit.
Our client, Minnie S., was enrolled in Community College and was in need of a personal computer to assist her in her studies. At the time, the Educational and Training Voucher (ETV) as administered by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), did not allow ETV funds to be used for the purchase of a computer. Subsequently, our office filed a service appeal of DCFS’ denial of ETV funds to our client for the purchase of a computer. After a lengthy process, DCFS ultimately agreed to change their policy and allow our clients to use ETV funds for the purchase of personal computers. At present, Minnie is still enrolled in school and is continuing her pursuit of a career in forensic science.
Our client, Vanessa B., is living in a self-selected placement in Peoria with her two-year-old son and his father. Vanessa is a tremendous advocate for herself. She located and participated in many services including counseling and various parenting classes/support groups, and is currently enrolled in college for child development. The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) offered Vanessa a Placement Alternative Contract (PAC) after a Child and Youth Investment Team meeting. Through the PAC, DCFS agreed to give Vanessa a monthly stipend, in exchange for her complying with the agreed upon services outlined in the contract. Vanessa gladly upheld her portion of the contract, but after months of Vanessa’s compliance, DCFS would not honor their portion of the PAC. Our office filed a service appeal of DCFS’s failure to provide the PAC payments to Vanessa. Eventually, DCFS conceded on all issues in the service appeal, and Vanessa will receive all of her entitled PAC funds.