Lawmakers hold hearing on CPS sex abuse investigation
A joint Senate and House hearing was held June 20 in Chicago in response to a recently released Chicago Tribune investigation that revealed sexual abuse and assaults had been frequently mishandled over a 10-year period in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). According to the Chicago Tribune, police investigated 523 reports of sexual abuse and rape at CPS over a 10-year period; however, the exact number of cases is unknown, because CPS does not consistently or formally track child abuse by its employees. In fact, it is highly likely that much of this material would have remained hidden because it was not until the Tribune threatened to file a lawsuit against CPS that the school district divulged the information.
Legislators heard testimony from survivors, as well as CPS and Illinois State Board of Education officials, child welfare advocates and union representatives. Lawmakers praised the bravery of two former CPS students for coming forward to testify to their experiences, but took CPS officials to task for what is now known to be a widespread, systemic failure by Chicago Public Schools administrators and teachers to adhere to current laws mandating background checks and a failure to follow required investigatory and reporting procedures.
Members of the legislative panel expressed outrage over the way school officials handled abuse allegations, after witnesses described an intimidating, humiliating and traumatizing investigatory process. Confirmation that the survivors received no follow-up counseling or support from the school district was also strongly criticized by legislators.
Witnesses offered suggestions on where legislative response is warranted, underscoring the necessity of following through on the required background checks and re-checking employees. The Chicago Tribune found that “At least nine of the 72 Chicago school workers identified by the Tribune as being accused of abusing students since 2008 had prior arrests related to alleged sexual offenses involving children, or drug, weapons, assault or theft allegations that signaled they could be a threat to children.”
Also recommended were policy changes to increase the frequency and ease of information sharing between Illinois school districts, as well as more frequent training for school employees on their state-mandated requirement to report abuse or assault.
Advocates also stressed the need for any child abuse allegation to be investigated by those trained and experienced in handling these types of serious, sensitive matters, to ensure no student is further humiliated, intimidated or traumatized during the course of an investigation.
Lawmakers stated during the June 20 hearing that the dialogue on how school districts and the General Assembly can help better protect students from abuse and assault will continue and likely expand into other regions in Illinois.
New adoption credit is an important victory for children
Illinois’s new adoption credit program will make it easier for families to adopt, connecting children with loving families.
The adoption process can be extremely costly and difficult. The state’s new adoption tax credit, which is based on the existing federal tax credit, seeks to mitigate those costs by offering a tax credit of up to $5,000 for a couple who is adopting a child at least one-year-old who resides in Illinois. Other adoption situations will qualify for up to a $2,000 credit.
Proponents hope that lowering the cost of adoption will help families interested in adoption move more easily through the process, placing children into an environment where they can grow, thrive, and be loved and nurtured. Additionally, advocates say the option process makes good fiscal sense as compared to costly foster care and institutional programs.
The adoption tax credit was part of the larger budget negotiations that led to the passage of a balanced budget.
State leaders applaud progress to support Discovery Partners Institute
This week, legislators joined Governor Bruce Rauner and representatives from the University of Illinois system to highlight significant momentum in the ongoing effort to make Illinois a hub of technological research, development, and innovation. Officials applauded the $500 million in appropriations the highly anticipated Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) received from the state of Illinois; as a result, the Governor said “all systems are ‘go’ for DPI.”
The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) represents the core of what is known as the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), a system of research centers across Illinois tailored to provide regional support and boost local economies. The DPI innovation center will be led by the U of I System and is intended to be located within The 78, a 62-acre planned development in downtown Chicago.
The innovative research and development anticipated to be spurred by the DPI/INN project will benefit from a network of collaborative partnerships, involving corporate and academic leaders from across the globe. As a result, the initiative is expected to become an economic engine for not only Illinois but the Midwest, as it attracts researchers, students and businesses seeking to be on the cutting edge of discovery and innovation.
The initiatives were announced last fall, and since that time the U of I System has been working on implementation plans, such as a construction timeline and other specifics, which will be revealed in late 2018.
First human case of West Nile virus reported in Illinois for 2018
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has confirmed the first human case of West Nile virus in Illinois for 2018. Director Nirav Shah emphasized that West Nile virus can cause serious illness in some people.
Who's at a higher risk?
- People older than 60
- Individuals with weakened immune systems
Common symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, nausea, headache, and muscle aches. Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks. However, four out of five people infected with the virus will not show any symptoms. In rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur.
Director Shah encouraged Illinois residents to get serious about taking precautions, such as wearing insect repellent and eliminating stagnant water around their homes. Specifically, precautions to “Fight the Bite" include practicing the three "R's”: reduce, repel, and report.
REDUCE: Ways to reduce potentially affected mosquitos include making certain doors and windows have tight-fitting screens and repairing or replacing screens that have tears or other openings. Residents are also encouraged to attempt to keep doors and windows shut. Also, experts say to eliminate, or refresh each week, all sources of standing water where mosquitoes can breed, including water in bird baths, ponds, flowerpots, wading pools, old tires, and any other containers.
REPEL: Ways to repel potentially affected mosquitos when outdoors includes wearing shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and applying insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR 3535. However, residents should consult a physician before using repellents on infants.
REPORT: report locations where you see water sitting stagnant for more than a week such as roadside ditches, flooded yards, and similar locations that may produce mosquitoes. The local health department or city government may be able to add larvicide to the water, which will kill any mosquito eggs.
Last year, 63 counties in Illinois reported a West Nile virus positive mosquito batch, bird and/or human case. For the 2017 season, IDPH reported 90 human cases (although human cases are underreported), including eight deaths.
Additional information about West Nile virus can be found on the IDPH website.