LCFS Hosts Annual Gathering of Stakeholders

  •  June 06, 2015

One hundred of Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois’ (LCFS) stakeholders gathered at Concordia University Chicago in late January to help LCFS “Consider the Children: Sentencing Reform, Keeping Parents at Home.”

 

Pastor Keith Haney, mission facilitator with the Northern Illinois District Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, immediately challenged attendees to take action:

 

“The work is not done. As long as there are people who are weak and disenfranchised we have work to do. As long as there are groups of people that we hate and push down, the dream is not complete. As long as there are people that we can walk by in need and think nothing about it, the dream is not complete.” Lest there be any doubt, he described the neighbor that Jesus calls us to serve: “Our neighbor is the person whose skin is different than ours, whose belief system is different than ours, who is fundamentally opposite of us. That is who we are called to love and treat as a brother and sister. In the words of our Savior, when you meet that person go and do likewise.”

 

Meeting Photos

 

Judge Abishi C. Cunningham, Cook County public defender (pictured, below), provided a vision for action to stakeholders. He drew on his professional experience as a defense attorney, prosecutor and judge, noting the heartbreak he felt when a child is affected by family breakup and imprisonment. He provided data. One-point-seven million children have a parent in prison in the United States. African-American children are seven-point-seven times more likely to be affected. The United States imprisons at a higher rate than Russia. He asked the rhetorical question: “Is the United State more violent than Russia?” The answer is “no,” as half of inmates in the U.S. are serving time for drug-related, non-violent offenses. Judge Cunningham said it clearly: “We cannot lock up everyone and think we will solve society’s problems that way.” He offered solutions: drug use is a public-health problem that calls for public funding of treatment centers; end mandatory minimums (in prison sentences) and put more emphasis on building families. In closing, Judge Cunningham summarized his vision for ending mass incarceration: “This has to stop. What harms our children, harms our future. It is time for a change.”

LCFS_OurClientStories38

 

Dr. Creasie Finney Hairston, dean of the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, provided insights from the perspective of children of incarcerated parents. She introduced a Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents, including the right to:

  • Be kept safe and informed
  • Be heard when decisions are made about me
  • Be considered when decisions are made about my parent
  • Be cared for in my parent’s absence
  • Speak with, see and touch my parent
  • Support as I face my parent’s incarceration
  • Not be judged, blamed or labeled because my parent is incarcerated
  • A lifelong relationship with my parent

 

LCFS_OurClientStories39

 

Dean Hairston (pictured, above) provided a menu of policies and practices that ought to be adopted, and she called for leadership, organization, persistence and involvement of those impacted (by sentencing and child welfare policy). She reminded attendees that “when allies – people of faith – people who didn’t appear to have a vested interest – got involved,” change happened. Equipped with this information and motivation, stakeholders engaged in dialogue and made the following recommendations for action by LCFS:

 

  • Using Camp Wartburg (a ministry of LCFS), help children of incarcerated parents get support
  • Train and equip families affected by incarceration with the skills to influence policy and practice
  • Identify allies already working on sentencing reform and support for families, to work for change
  • Focus on educating congregations and community to understand the underlying issues
  • Take the lead (with the Bill of Rights for Children with Incarcerated Parents as a framework) in building partnerships to educate legislators, utilizing stories from parents and LCFS staff
  • Flood legislators and social media with letters from those who are directly affected by the sentencing issue
  • Provide leadership to define the issue and specific action steps in order to help implement the Bill of Rights for Children with Incarcerated Parents
  • Become the recognized expert in service to children affected by incarceration of parents, someone who legislators reach out to for education
  • Create a guiding principal of holistic approach to treatment, including advocating for provider collaboration and overcoming barriers to visitation
  • Advocate to eliminate mandatory minimum-sentencing policy

 

Stakeholders were urged to act immediately to oppose mandatory minimum sentencing policy, using the websites of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (http://famm.org/) (at the federal level) and the FORCE initiative of Community Renewal Society (www.communityrenewalsociety.org/force-fighting-overcome-records-and-create-equality) (at the state level).

 

The event closed with a highlight: LCFS Board Chair Brenna Woodley and LCFS Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Bertrand presented the Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois 2015 Advocacy Award to LCFS President and CEO Gene Svebakken. In presenting the award, Brenna noted: “Gene, in recognition of fifty years of outstanding social work practice, as a visionary, a champion for children and a leader of the field, we are highly pleased to present this award to you.” Gene’s career of advocacy for children began as a caseworker with the Iowa Department of Social Welfare and brought him to leadership at LCFS, which has undergone tremendous growth and innovation during his 37 years as leader. Gene’s reaction:

 

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