Changing Lives One Child at a Time

When he was elected Governor, he turned to his greatest advisor, Brenda Edgar, to lead the charge on women’s and children’s health, safety and welfare issues.

In 1991, the First Lady led the charge in adoption reform through Project HEART (Helping to Ease Adoption Red Tape). It made it easier for foster families to adopt, opened up courtrooms to clear the backlog of adoption cases and increased adoptions of special needs children. As a result, adoptions of children in the state’s foster care system increased by more than 500 percent.

In 1994, the Edgars worked diligently to prevent the tragedy of the “Baby Richard” case, which removed an innocent child from his loving adoptive parents, from happening again. 

Along with adoption reform, the Edgars’ focus on child welfare yielded other measurable results. Childhood immunizations reached an all time high to 9th in the country, up from 46th when Edgar took office. The state’s infant mortality rate plummeted nearly 25 percent to an all time low. And Governor Edgar led the nation in providing health insurance to the working poor through the KidCare Children’s Health Insurance program.


of Illinois young people fully immunized by 1996


increase in in-home care for the elderly


decrease in infant mortality

Illinois’ infant mortality rate reached an all-time low in 1997, due in part to state programs encouraging regular prenatal care. Mrs Edgar watches as physicians monitor a premature infant. 

Family. It is something that has sustained Jim Edgar throughout his life. 

From his early years in downstate Charleston, where from age 7 he was raised by his mom after his father died tragically in a car crash, to his marriage to Brenda, to rearing two children, and finally to welcoming two grandchildren, family has been as much a part of Edgar’s life as have his three decades of government service. 

Indeed, from the very beginning of his administration, Edgar sought to improve the quality of life for all Illinois families. From infancy to senior citizenship, he promoted protecting children’s health, providing quality education, keeping families together through innovative welfare reform plans, making the streets safer, and using community-based approaches for the elderly. 

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The challenges of family issues often seemed overwhelming. Reports of Illinois child abuse and neglect cases reverberated throughout the state and across the nation, making the state’s child welfare system a frequent target of attack. Children showed up at school malnourished and unprepared to learn. The elderly were mistreated in licensed and unlicensed nursing homes. 

With the help of the First Lady, Edgar marshaled government and community to bolster the family. Mrs. Edgar organized Help Me Grow, assisting more than 100,000 families with vital information about immunizations, drug abuse and violence prevention. She also headed up a new state effort to eliminate the red tape that often stalled the adoption of children by loving families. She was the moving force behind a wellness guide giving mothers practical information about keeping their babies and women. 

The Governor also initiated programs and invested millions of dollars to build a safety net for the most needy families. Illinois became a national leader in offering health insurance for uninsured kids. In the schools, Project Success helped at-risk children with health and family problems that could impede their ability to learn. Collecting child support from deadbeat parents was critical. Abused and neglected children were moved into stable and loving homes. And the elderly were cared for at home, rather than in institutions, wherever possible.

Edgar’s emphasis on children and families yielded measurable success. Adoptions of children in foster care increased to record levels for six straight years, reaching one of the highest totals in the nation in 1998 with more than 4,200. Childhood immunizations reached an all-time high. The state’s infant mortality rate plummeted nearly 25 percent during Edgar’s administration to an alltime low. Pregnancies among teenaged girls dropped to the lowest level in eight years. Child support collections broke records every year. Welfare-to-work programs moved 200,000 families off welfare and into jobs. Inhome care for the elderly grew by 40 percent. 

The 1998 edition of The ReliaStar State Health Rankings, the most comprehensive annual analysis of each state population’s health, reported that between 1990 and 1998, Illinois was fifth out of all states in greatest overall health improvements. The study cited coverage for health insurance, support for public health care and a decline in motor vehicle deaths as chief reasons for Illinois’ rise in the rankings.

“By investing in our families, we are creating cycles of success to end the cycles of despair,” Edgar said. 

DCFS Director Jess Mcdonald was on the front line in reforming the state’s child welfare system. With Edgar, he worked to ensure that children’s rights counted in custody decisions.

Nowhere was the state’s challenge of protecting and preserving families more daunting than in child welfare. 

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigates child abuse and neglect, removes children from dangerous homes and makes the often Solomon-like decision to reunite these children with their parents or to find them other loving homes. 

As guardian of its neglected children, Illinois was falling short of being a good parent when Edgar began his governorship. 

In fact, three years before Edgar took office, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of abused and neglected kids, claiming that Illinois was failing its children. A federal judge concurred and placed DCFS under court supervision until it improved.

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Without doubt, DCFS caseworkers were swamped with work and slow to investigate reports of abuse and neglect. Children were frequently placed in overcrowded and unsafe foster homes. Few social services were available to keep families together or to reunite them. Children languished in foster care because the state was not aggressive in finding adoptive parents.

In his first two years as Governor, Edgar increased funding for child welfare programs by more than 40 percent. But Edgar acknowledged money alone would not prevent the tragedies of child abuse. “Our child welfare system is not broke, it is broken,” he said in his 1993 State of the State address. 

Despite these long odds, the Governor aimed to make Illinois a better parent. While giant strides were made by the end of his administration, early progress was frequently measured in small steps. The Governor’s first move was to settle the ACLU lawsuit and to promise to follow a blueprint for reform. The reform plan included increased funding, reduced caseload numbers, improved responsiveness to the needs of children and families, and more accountability. 

Funding for DCFS tripled under Edgar’s administration, to $1.4 billion in fiscal 1999. About 800 new, frontline caseworkers were hired, and caseloads fell from a high of 90 per worker to 25. State workers who did not protect children were fired. Adoptions became a priority, as did locating wayward parents to provide child support. 

After years of painstaking efforts, progress was noticeable. Independent auditors KPMG and the Bronner Group Inc. in 1997 said, “Today we see a department that is making notable efforts to transform itself into a credible and accountable government organization.” The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Some good things are happening at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Seems like it has been a while since anybody said that.”

To be sure, there were setbacks along the way. In 1993, the mother of 3-year-old Joseph Wallace tied an extension cord around his neck, waved good-bye and kicked the chair out from under him. Three times DCFS had removed Joseph from his mother’s care for fear he might be harmed. But, just months before his death, the courts and others, including DCFS and the child’s public guardian, recommended he be returned to his mother. Knowing of her proclivity for violence, Joseph’s foster parents had pleaded to no avail that he remain in their home. 

Within a year of the Wallace murder, police discovered 19 children of six different mothers living in a cold, filthy two-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s Keystone Avenue. One child asked a woman police officer, “Will you be my mommy?” Only a few cans of corn were found in the apartment. Another child apparently was sharing a bone with a dog. The children huddled together for warmth against the February temperatures, with only a few dirty blankets to share. The case of the “Keystone Kids,” as it became known, drew national attention. President Clinton registered disgust that this type of problem occurred in the United States: “Today, this headline is in our papers: ’19 Children Found Amid Squalor in Chicago Apartment. Not in Calcutta, but in Chicago.” 

Following these tragic cases and others, the state made profound changes in its care of children. Edgar appointed an inspector general for DCFS to investigate any failure to protect a child. In response to the Wallace murder, the Governor pushed through legislation to elevate a child’s well-being over a parent’s custody right. Other laws dramatically altered the state’s view of the family itself, whether some can function, and when foster parents should enter the picture.

“In the past, we have been too protective of parents’ rights and not as concerned with children’s rights,” Edgar said bluntly. 

While reforms moved slowly forward, the need for services was immense. The state’s trusteeship over children grew at unprecedented and alarming rates. Some 23,000 children were in state substitute care in 1991, but that figure ballooned to nearly 110 percent in just four years. At the same time, calls to the DCFS hotline jumped from 260,000 to nearly 400,000. 

“There is never a simple answer, not with numbers like these,” said DCFS Director Jess McDonald. The DCFS workload often is a barometer of societal problems reflecting poverty, drug abuse, crime and poor housing. 

Edgar sensed a major travesty in the number of children living with relatives who were being maintained in the child welfare system. In Illinois, children in relative care grew faster than anywhere in the country from 10,000 in 1991 to 27,000 in 1995. 

If the kids were in good hands with grandparents, an aunt and uncle or another relative, Edgar said the state should leave them alone. Relatives often provide a safe alternative to parental care, with fewer cases of abuse and less neglect. These placements maintained a continuity of family relationships, minimized trauma over the child’s removal from home and facilitated visitation with parents and their siblings. 

What many relatives were advised by well-meaning social workers, however, was to report their young charges as abused, neglected or abandoned, qualifying them for DCFS assistance, which was higher than public aid. The result was an overburdened child welfare system and more state interference. 

Under Edgar’s plan, a first-in-the nation initiative, family members acting as guardians would receive a combination of state and federal funds. This allowed the relative, not the state, to decide on health care, medical treatment and education for the children. Federal funds provided half of the monthly subsidy, which averages $375 per child.

The program had an immediate impact. The number of kids coming into the state system dropped. So did calls to the child abuse hotline. 

Caseworkers could turn their attention to children who really needed help. The state saved millions of dollars as children moved to kinship guardians from foster care, which had cost more and required additional state oversight. 

The Governor also sought improvements for foster care, the backbone of the state’s child welfare system. One option was to increase the state’s purchase of foster care, residential care and treatment services through the private sector. Such agencies hired and trained staff faster than DCFS. Through a diverse pool of contractors, the state could direct experts to troubled youths, the developmentally disabled and babies born addicted to cocaine and other drugs. 

Between 1991 and 1996, children in foster care with private caseworkers grew from 9,900 to 33,200. 

To assure the state was getting its money’s worth, Edgar toughened standards for the 180 private agencies overseeing child care. No longer was a DCFS worker strapped with handling 100 cases a month. DCFS performance teams began monitoring entire agencies, spot-checking individual case files, reviewing employee credentials and making sure children were getting quality care. 

Private agencies were required to have staff undergo state-mandated training and examination. In addition, members of the boards of directors at these agencies had to certify they were free of any felony conviction and of child abuse or neglect. Those responsible for licensing foster care needed to have a bachelor’s degree, to have completed DCFS training and to have passed a competency exam. 

Similarly, foster parents were expected to meet certain standards. And, as foster parents took in more children, concern focused on homes with five or more foster children. DCFS began evaluating such homes to ensure safe care. Six became the maximum for foster children in one home, a standard set by the National Accrediting Organization of child welfare services. 

To assist foster parents, Edgar signed legislation requiring DCFS to lift the veil of secrecy and to provide complete information on a child’s criminal background. He also approved a bill to grant foster families more privacy by restricting information, including addresses and phone numbers, and signed a law prohibiting biological parents from contacting their children in ways not specified in the family’s case plan. 

Out-of-state residential treatment for the state’s most troubled youths took a dramatic upswing early in the Edgar years. Illinois-based centers were either overwhelmed by the number of kids needing oversight or the kids were too dangerous for the types of facilities available in the state. From 1991 to 1995, wards sent out of state more than tripled to nearly 800. 

Edgar, however, wanted the kids returned to the state so DCFS could better oversee their care and they would be closer to home and their extended families. 

Starting in 1995, Edgar saw to it that there were places for Illinois kids in Illinois and the numbers began to decline. By 1998, those wards of the state living outside Illinois had been reduced by 75 percent. 

For children under state guardianship, the state launched Healthworks of Illinois, to assess medical needs of children in foster care within 24 hours of entering state custody. This information is summarized in a “health passport,” which serves as a record for future reference. 

Meanwhile, Mrs. Edgar began a search for top-notch foster parents, working with the Partnership to Save the Children, an organization of 50 Chicago African-American ministers, DCFS and Ronald McDonald House Charities. 

The Governor also emphasized prevention of child problems. Through Healthy Families Illinois, a statewide network worked with high-risk families to help them with parenting skills through home visits. 

“It’s unfortunate Illinois has to be a parent for any child,” Edgar said in his 1998 budget address. “But during the last seven years we have changed policies and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Department of Children and Family Services. because of the reforms and the investment we made in DCFS, Illinois has become a better parent.”

The Governor and Mrs. Edgar reached out to churches and the private sector to find adoptive parents. One ongoing initiative is “One Church, One Child.” Here, the Edgars attend a program for minority foster children in Chicago early in the Governor’s administration. 

Due to bureaucratic stumbling blocks and low priorities, Illinois’ recruitment of adoptive parents for children under state care was abysmal. Edgar was adamant in his call for change. 

In his first year in office, there were 708 adoptions of abused and neglected children. In 1997, adoptions grew to a record 2,229, to be topped by a record 4,293 in 1998. “This increase represents one of the great success stories of state government,” Edgar said. 

The Governor accomplished the dramatic upswing by cutting the unnecessary red tape that often stymied adoptions. And Edgar fought to change a long-held court position that keeping a family together was more important than what was in the best interest of the child.

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Edgar laid the groundwork for improvement in 1991 when he initiated Project HEART (Helping to Ease Adoption Red Tape) and asked Mrs. Edgar to lead the effort. For two years the group studied the adoption process. Its recommendations included reducing the time for processing fingerprints and doing background checks of prospective adoptive families, opening new courtrooms in Cook County Juvenile Court to speed termination of parental rights, cutting filing fees and allowing the courts to waive fees for children with special needs. 

As a result of the changes, the average adoption time was cut in half. Project HEART also matched parents to kids with special needs and helped to ease the financial burdens of parents adopting these sometimes hard-toplace children. 

The Governor earmarked more funding for adoption and guardianship subsidies, up to $106 million in fiscal 1999, a 300 percent increase since fiscal 1994, to move children from foster care into permanent, safe and nurturing homes. 

He signed legislation in 1994 to prevent the tragedy of innocent children, as was the case with “Baby Richard,” being removed from the only homes they ever knew. By making the child’s health and safety the top priority, the law forced decisions about the child’s permanent home to be made earlier in the review process. Parents were given a shorter time frame under which to make reasonable progress toward regaining custody or face the termination of their parental rights. It also expedited the adoptions of children who are victims of the worst cases of abuse and neglect. 

In the Baby Richard case, which grabbed national attention, the mother gave the boy up for adoption shortly after birth. The child was adopted by a loving family. But the child’s biological father, who thought the boy was dead, sought custody when he learned otherwise. For four years, the case was debated in the courts before the Illinois Supreme Court discounted arguments about the child’s best interest and forced him from the only family he had ever known in an emotionally charged exchange witnessed by millions on television. 

Edgar was highly critical of the Illinois Supreme Court and was “deeply disappointed” when the U.S. Supreme Court would not hear the case on appeal. In a statement, Edgar and his wife said, “In our opinion the judicial system has failed this innocent child.” 

To answer complaints from unmarried fathers who claim their children are adopted without their consent, Illinois legislated a “father’s registry.” If the biological father fails to register or claim paternity, an adoption can proceed without fear that the same thing would happen as happened to Baby Richard’s adoptive parents. The legislature also decreed that a “best-interest” hearing be held when adoptions are overturned.

The state participated under Edgar’s direction in innovative programs to try and find adoptive homes. Through the Corporate Adoption Recruitment Partnership, the state worked with businesses to find adoptive parents and to ease possible work-related concerns. In one such effort, the Governor in 1998 joined with the Illinois Hospital and Health Systems Association and private welfare agencies to encourage hospital employees to consider adoption. 

Illinois’ efforts to promote and increase the number of adoptions received national acclaim in November 1998, taking two of eight national awards. The Governor and Mrs. Edgar, and DCFS, were each presented Adoption 2002 Excellence Awards by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and recognized at a White House ceremony hosted by President Bill Clinton.

In April 1991, the Governor launched “Beautiful Babies…Right From The Start,” his first statewide program to promote parental care and to reduce infant mortality.

One constant irritant in the child welfare system has been parents who abandon their children and refuse support for their upbringing. The impact of this irresponsibility is two-fold the children suffer and the state taxpayer foots the bill. 

Early in his administration, Edgar warned deadbeat parents he would be on their trail. He has been. In every year of Edgar’s two terms, the state has collected record support payments. Since 1991, $1.9 billion has been collected, more than two-thirds of all child support money brought in by the state since the program began in 1976. Illinois collected $321 million in 1998 alone. 

In 1997, the National Child Support Enforcement Administration recognized the strides Illinois has made by voting it the “most improved” state at its national convention.

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“We have made it more difficult for child support deadbeats,” Edgar said. “We go after them the same way we go after tax cheats.” 

The key to these dramatic gains is that more and tougher tools to establish and collect child support were put into place during the Edgar years than at any time before. 

One of his most successful innovations has been the hospital paternity establishment program that requires hospitals or other persons responsible for filing a birth certificate to provide parents with forms to establish the child’s paternity and apply for child support. In 1996, the year after the law took effect, there were 24,000 paternity establishments. The following year, the number rose 77 percent to 42,539 and in 1998 paternities reached 50,259. Since 1991, the state has established 225,000 paternities. 

Illinois also implemented one of the nation’s toughest paternity establishment systems. Mothers applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits must disclose the name of the father and provide a Social Security number or two other specific pieces of identification, such as his birth date, address or identity of his current employer. An uncooperative mother risks forfeiture of her portion of the TANF grant and Medicaid coverage. If she is still uncooperative after six months, the child’s portion of the grant is also lost. Under the prior system, she could merely say that the father or his whereabouts were unknown and no sanctions were imposed. 

In addition, Edgar signed legislation allowing the Illinois Department of Revenue to assist in the collection of child support. A staff of 22 became one of the state’s most effective tools, recovering $26 million in past due child support since 1996. Agency efforts complement the seizure of federal and state tax refunds and the interception of other state payments to child support scofflaws. 

One of Edgar’s last initiatives was the creation, in 1997, of a computerized directory to track the newly hired, as recommended by the Child Support Enforcement Task Force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra. Employers must identify new employees within 20 days of hiring.

 The state then tracks down those who shirk their child support. Since October 1997, 80,000 delinquent workers have been found. The system raised $14 million the first full year, in addition to savings in reduced fraud in welfare, medical insurance and unemployment insurance benefit payments. 

Illinois also became the first state to use DNA testing to establish paternity and one of the first states to revoke professional, occupational and driver’s licenses for nonpayment of child support. And Illinois pursues state prisoners for paternity while they are still incarcerated. 

In Cook County, the state began an expedited hearing process to speed the establishment of paternity and the collection of child support. A full range of child support services is offered in one location and combines the use of hearing officers and judges to reduce the need for repeated court appearances. Before this center opened in Chicago’s Loop, child support cases had been heard in 31 city and four suburban courtrooms. 

Illinois offered deadbeat parents help and encouragement to pay up. State agency staff help parents who claim they are unfairly burdened, modifying their child support orders when appropriate and settling other related issues. 

Unemployed parents can get state assistance with job skills and employment so they can support their children. Placements come through the Earnfare program, which provides subsidized employment for six months. The first $50 earned in the program each month goes for child support.

Edgar’s KidCare program, initiated in January 1998, provides medical coverage for more than 200,000 children whose parents cannot afford health insurance. 

Edgar worked to help the estimated 300,000 Illinois children who lacked health insurance and, as a consequence, often went without routine preventive care, like immunizations, vision and hearing screenings, emergency care and prescription drugs. A hospital stay for unexpected injury or illness could drive already strapped families into financial ruin. The thousands of pregnant women without resources faced risky births and the pos-sibility of subsequent complications. 

Edgar attacked the problem at several levels. He wanted greater Medicaid coverage for children of the working poor. He also sought a new health care network patterned after Medicaid and to help others pay for insurance through their employers. The goal was to enable children to grow up healthier and to have more families employed and off welfare. 

When the federal Balanced Budget Act of 1997 authorized states to develop health care programs for the uninsured, Edgar moved to provide health care for children of working parents and pregnant women who could not afford insurance.

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The first rollout of the plan KidCare the Illinois Children’s Health Initiative came in January 1998. Edgar announced Medicaid would help an estimated 40,000 children, ages 1 through 18, and 3,000 pregnant women. 

Phase two followed in August 1998, after Edgar worked with legislators and a task force to craft legislation establishing a $117 million-a-year program that made medical care more accessible and helped the workingpoor to pay for private insurance. Some 157,000 uninsured children can join a Medicaid look-alike program that requires nominal co-payments for services based on the income levels of participants. The plan also extended state assistance to 51,000 children to ensure coverage under their parents’ employer health care plans. 

“Too many of our low-income families are living without a safety net. Too many have no medical coverage at all. They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. But they cannot afford regular health insurance,” Edgar said in his 1998 State of the State address as he unveiled his KidCare plan. “By covering more children of the working poor, we are helping even more families stay off the welfare rolls. We are giving those kids a better chance to grow up healthy and strong. We are making those families stronger.”

The Governor also made it a state mission to save the lives of more babies. In 1990, the year before Edgar took office, Illinois’ infant mortality rate stood at 10.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. A total of 2,090 infants died that year before reaching 1 year of age. By 1997, the state’s infant mortality rate had declined to an all-time low of 8.2, which represented 1,476 deaths. 

Central to reducing infant deaths was providing mothers-to-be with prenatal care and proper nutrition, and putting health and family planning first. Initiated in 1993, the family case management program assigns caseworkers to make sure needy mothers and their infant children establish regular relationships with physicians. They help women find a doctor, keep appointments, arrange transportation and connect with nutrition and health education services. The program now serves annually about 140,000 women and children up to age 1. Participating women registered 30 percent fewer premature deliveries and low birth weight babies than others outside the program. 

Through the federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, 250,000 Illinois pregnant women and their children identified at nutritional risk receive food coupons that buy infant formula, milk, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, juice, beans and iron-fortified cereals. 

To stretch federal funds, Edgar’s staff negotiated the nation’s highest rebate on infant formula provided through WIC. The state currently receives $2.60 for each of the 22 million cans of formula distributed annually to WIC clients. Over the contract’s three years, Illinois will be rebated an estimated $160 million that will be poured back into the program to serve more mothers and children. 

The Governor sought to curb fraud and enhance efficiency in the WIC program. In a pioneering partnership, he joined with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago for a more efficient WIC food delivery system. More than 50,000 clients receive special food coupons redeemable at 15 Chicago food centers. The stores also provide food industry job training for community residents, many on welfare and chronically unemployed. In November 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked the state’s food center delivery program as the best in the nation, exemplifying innovation, creativity and management. 

After birth, regular medical checkups are necessary to make sure a child is developing normally and to administer a series of vaccinations needed to protect against potentially deadly childhood diseases, including polio, diphtheria, pertussis and measles. 

In 1994, Illinois ranked 46th among states in the immunization of 2-year-olds against vaccine-preventable diseases. That same year commenced a $23 million state project providing immunizations to Medicaid children and those without health insurance coverage. In just two years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Illinois had surged to ninth best in the country. More than 80 percent of the state’s youngsters were fully immunized. 

In 1998, the Governor and Mrs. Edgar sent congratulatory greeting cards donated by Hallmark Cards Inc. to new moms and dads stressing the importance of childhood vaccines. 

The private sector also helped extend public health services to hard-to-reach groups. In 1994, Mrs. Edgar accepted a mobile public health clinic for her Help Me Grow campaign from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. The specially outfitted van assists state and local health departments to deliver immunizations and other preventive health services to children. 

As another preventive measure, Edgar approved legislation in 1991 that mandates children be screened for lead poisoning before entering day care, pre-school or kindergarten. Lead poisoning can enter a child’s bloodstream if contaminated paint chips are eaten or if lead-dust is inhaled. The consequences can range from mental impairment to death. Early detection is vital. More than 1 million children have been screened since the Illinois program began. Of these, 98,000 children, or nearly one in 10, registered elevated lead levels. 

Violence against children also received the Governor’s attention. In 1995, Edgar created an authority co-chaired by Attorney General Jim Ryan and Public Health Director Dr. John R. Lumpkin to plan, coordinate, evaluate and fund public health and public safety approaches to violence.

Governor Edgar in 1998 appointed a Commission on the Status of Women. Chaired by Dr. Paula Wolff (left), president of Governors States University, the commission sought ways to help women overcome obstacles in their lives and in the workplace.

More than 2,000 Illinois women die every year from breast cancer. One million suffer from a devastating disease that causes bones to become thin and brittle resulting in great pain, loss of independence and even death. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and face the misunderstanding associated with this mental illness. Millions of women face these mid-life changes that carry physical and psychological impact.

The Governor cited this litany of problems affecting maturing women in his 1997 State of the State address, as he sought support for prevention and early treatment options. Mrs. Edgar’s Help Me Grow program became the model for a new women’s health initiative called Friend to Friend.

The campaign enlisted state services, public awareness, a toll-free helpline and private sector funding. Its focus was on women over 40 years old, and provided important information on heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis, domestic violence, mental stress and menopause. More than 30 private sector groups participated and corporate sponsors contributed $100,000. Health information went to senior centers, retiree groups and thousands of homebound senior citizens.

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The Governor included $1 million in his fiscal 1999 budget to fund a new Office of Women’s Health in the Illinois Department of Public Health, one of only six in the nation. It seeks to improve the health of women and to confer grants to local agencies for women’s health promotion. 

With corporate help, Mrs. Edgar started Get Moving, a campaign advocating exercise to combat chronic disease among women. More than 3,000 Illinois chief executive officers received informational packets for their employees encouraging them to exercise. One million free hours of workout time were donated by businesses involved in physical fitness. 

In 1993, Edgar approved a special fund for breast and cervical cancer research. Drawing on donations made by taxpayers along with state appropriations, the program focuses on early detection, prevention, cure, screening and treatment. Grants totaling $2 million so far have supported 33 Illinois programs. The state also has a five-year program to provide breast and cervical cancer screenings to low-income women who lack insurance. 

In the area of health care, the Governor supported and signed legislation in 1996 to prohibit so-called “drivethrough deliveries” by requiring insurance companies and health maintenance organizations to provide for at least a 48-hour hospital stay for new mothers. The next year, Edgar added a requirement that insurers provide a minimum hospital stay after a mastectomy and minimum coverages for mammograms and Pap smears. 

Edgar appointed a Commission on the Status of Women in 1998 to develop strategies to help women overcome obstacles in their lives and in the workplace. The panel, chaired by Dr. Paula Wolff, president of Governors State University, looked at equal pay, equal access to the lending market, safe and high-quality child care, and strong enforcement of existing laws protecting women from domestic violence and sexual assault.

As Illinois’ senior citizen population grew, Edgar started programs to help the elderly remain in their homes and communities. For the 100,000 Illinoisans in nursing homes, state regulators inspected facilities to assure safe living conditions and quality care.

Helping older persons to maintain their independence and live with dignity formed the centerpiece of Edgar’s efforts for senior citizens. 

The Illinois Community Care program provides in-home and adult day care for 37,000 older persons. Caseloads grew 40 percent during Edgar’s administration, and spending reached $172 million in fiscal 1999, up 86 percent from 1991. 

To help older persons stay in their homes, the state offers home-delivered meals. About 43,000 elderly rely on such services, which provide 7 million meals annually. When the federally funded program fell short of growing needs, Edgar added state dollars to eliminate waiting lists.

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The Governor in 1995 approved a law requiring nursing facilities to screen the elderly before admitting them to nursing homes. A trained case manager provides information on other options, including community-based services. The Illinois Department on Aging also began offering alternatives such as community-based residential sites for those needing assistance with meals, housekeeping, transportation and other services. 

Part of Edgar’s commitment to vulnerable older adults was faster state response to reports of elderly abuse and neglect. From 1,000 reports answered in 1991 to 7,000 in his final year in office, the program received national recognition for its pursuit of elder abuse. 

For those 100,000 Illinoisans living in licensed nursing homes, the state raised its awareness of safety concerns and complaints. Beginning in 1992, nursing homes that complied with state regulations could receive twoyear licenses, which subject them to less state oversight. Those homes with major violations are checked more frequently for corrective plans. Aggressive efforts led to more deficiencies written against licensed nursing homes in Illinois than in any other state in the country, except California. 

Edgar also supported a criminal background check for health care workers in nursing homes that began in 1996. Certain convictions disqualify would-be caretakers from employment in these facilities. 

Throughout his eight years in office, the Governor stressed expanded public/private partnerships. In November 1991, he formed Eldercare Illinois, a coalition of 100-plus groups representing business, labor, religion, health, local government, education and aging.

This partnership resulted in increased information sharing, service referrals, prevention activities and educational opportunities for older persons and their caregivers. For example, contact employees in all of the state’s major gas and electric utility companies have been trained to identify seniors in need. Private firms joined in fund raising for holiday and weekend meal programs for the homebound elderly, transportation specialists discussed needs of older drivers and others sponsored caregiving fairs to assist employees caring for older parents.

Edgar’s Illinois READS (Retirees Educating and Assisting in the Development of Students) program tapped the knowledge and experience of older Illinoisans to improve the literacy level of some of the state’s young people. Through the program, 18,000 children have been matched with 6,000 older volunteers who tutor them in reading and other basic skills. Started in 1993, Illinois READS today has more than 2,000 sites, many located in Project Success schools. 

One of the newest state programs, the Grandparents Raising Children Initiative, originated because an estimated 70,000 Illinois children are being raised by grandparents. With Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the Governor and Mrs. Edgar in 1997 co-chaired the nation’s first statewide symposium on legal and supportive issues affecting grandparent caregivers. In his fiscal 1999 budget, Edgar included funds to establish 30 new support groups to assist grandparents who rear grandchildren.

““By investing in our families, we are creating cycles of success to end the cycles of despair.”– Jim Edgar