Addressing Violence in Schools
December 16, 2021
Exposure to any kind of violence can have a devastating and long-lasting negative effect on children and youth if adequate professional help is not available. Once seen as a “safe haven,” America’s school systems have experienced an unprecedented increase of violence. This ongoing exposure to violence in the school setting has created spaces where some students are struggling. But there is hope. A new program is now available to assist Chicago’s most vulnerable children and youth.
In an article published in “Chalk Beat Chicago,” writer Mauricio Pena explains what Chicago has done to help students. Pena explained, “Chicago Public Schools will spend 7.5 million dollars to expand an anti-violence program for teens in “high-risk situations’ and connect with them weekly therapy and dedicated mentors. The program, called Choose to Change, will reach 1,000 students this school year.”
A partnership between Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. and Children’s Home & Aid, Choose to Change provides young people with a trauma-informed, six-month program to help them develop healthy decision-making tools. This program can potentially assist in changing the culture of violence throughout Chicago by helping those most susceptible.
By supporting this program and educating others about its impact, we can help Chicago’s most vulnerable children and youth. Tell your local congregation and other constituencies about Choose to Change. Encourage your stakeholders in your community to support this new program. And contact your state lawmakers and tell them more similar policies and programs are needed throughout Illinois to protect our children and youth.
Rev. Beverly Dukes
Policy Coordinator, United Voices for Children
 Mauricio Pena, “Chicago to expand anti-violence youth program that reduces arrests in a pilot” Chalk Beat Chicago, accessed November 29, 2021, https://chicago.chalkbeat.org/2021/10/25/22745286/chicago-public-schools-choose-to-change-antiviolence-program-pedro-martinez
Reflection from a Board Member
December 2, 2021
I came to the UVC board representing United Methodist Women, whose connection to the support of children, youth and women is as old as the organization itself. On a personal level, I was in education for 30 years, working with students in reading from kindergarten to graduate school. I connected with many children who were struggling because of circumstances beyond their control.
In retirement, I have found that the UVC board was the perfect opportunity to stay connected with helping children, albeit from a distance. This board provides support for three outstanding organizations who connect with children, youth and families in need of their unique services, as well as being an advocate on their behalf. I’m proud to serve as a board member, knowing that my contribution makes a difference in the lives of others.
Beautiful cars made — and given — in love
November 15, 2021
UVC board member Deaconess Catherine Inserra recently interviewed Lisa Williams about her late husband’s Toy Car Ministry. Inspired by a similar ministry in Florida, Rev. Doug Williams brought the idea of making and distributing toy wooden cars to his congregation 10 years ago as a new ministry to children. A woodworker hobbyist, it was Doug’s dream for a life-giving impact. See the video interview below.
The congregation began the ministry and by the end of their first year had made and distributed 95 cars. By October 2021, the church had given away approximate 14,000 cars. UVC partner agency Kids Above All is one of the recipients of the “unplugged” toys, having received the cars for their children in their early childhood program and foster care.
This “assembly line ministry” takes many hands to cut out the car pieces, sand the pieces, assemble, paint and coordinate distribution. Lisa notes that a lot of people partnered with the church to serve in this ministry, from Boy Scout troops to Wesley Willows retirement home residents to National Honor Society students. “Lots of different people, lots of different stages in life, everybody working together on this ‘assembly line of a different kind’ manufactures these beautiful, simple, non-electric cars,” notes Deaconess Inserra.
Lisa Williams agreed, adding that she wants people to know that “something so simple that many hands have contributed to can have such a profound impact in the life of a child— and to convey how it is such a unique and beautiful and fun way to show that so many people care and love others.”
Rev. Williams built a beautiful legacy of care in the construction simple toy cars, and the ministry continues.
The Role of the GAL for Children in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois
October 19, 2021
Approximately 20 years ago, Judge Herman Knell asked me to submit my name to become a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. I submitted my name and application to the Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Court, along with the recommendation of Judge Knell. I went before an advising committee and then went through the educational training classes before finally becoming a GAL.
My name was placed on the list of GALs, and the judges could choose a GAL to assist them better adjudicate the best interests of children who have an interest in a particular proceeding coming before the Court. To remain on the list, an attorney serving as a GAL must attend at least three continuing education courses per year as a refresher. The GAL is paid a fee set by the Judge that the parents must pay. If the parents are unable to pay, the judge may appoint the attorney on a pro bono basis.
The GAL serves as the eyes and ears of the Court. Upon appointment, he/she services the case, researching the background of the parents, the number of children and their ages. The GAL visits the family home or the respective homes of the parents (if they live separately). The GAL investigates all aspects of the family home(s)—living space, living condition(s)—and a visit may be made to the school(s) and the grades the child(ren) has earned are collected. An investigation is made of anything that affects the well-being of the child(ren).
After the GAL garners as much information as possible, he/she will also interview the child(ren) extensively. This is to gain as more information as possible to report to the Court. An observation is also made of the child(ren) to determine if there has been any physical abuse upon the child(ren) when in the care of either of the parents. During the interview, the GAL may even ask the child(ren) how they are treated by either or both parents. Depending upon their age, the child(ren) may be asked who they would prefer living with. After the GAL has fully investigated the parents, the children, their respective homes, schools and any other factors potentially affecting the well-being of the child(ren, the GAL reports back to the Court.
At that time, the Court will make its determination which parent the child(ren) will live with; that parent is called the “custodial parent.” The “non-custodial” parent is granted visitation rights. Based on the GAL’s recommendation, the Court sets the times and days that the “non-custodial” parent shall have for visitation. They will usually alternate the child visitation for birthdays and the birthday of the child(ren) between the parents. The Court further determines the time for visitation for the birthday of each parent.
The GAL’s report also helps the Court determine where the visitation(s) takes place and the amount of time allotted to the “non-custodial” parent. If there is a problem with who picks up and/or drops off the child(ren) (after the visit), the court will make a determination based upon the recommendation of the GAL The GAL does not set the amount of the child support that the non-custodial parent pays for the benefit of the child(ren)—the Court does, generally following a guideline set up based upon the ability of the “non- custodial” parent to pay based upon his (her) earnings and the number of children who are entitled to support. Over the child(ren)’s lifetime, any change in circumstance in the family make-up may cause a modification of any prior order usually upon the recommendation of the GAL.
The GAL has a very important role as the eyes and ears of the Court—and in the life of children living through divorce, as I saw firsthand.
My experience with the UVC Board
September 13, 2021
Over the past two years, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve on the United Voices for Children board. I am a Deacon in the United Methodist Church who serves as the Recruitment Coordinator at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary for my primary appointment and at Urban Village Church, Chicago, for my secondary appointment. As a Deacon, I understand my vocational call under the broad umbrella of educational ministry. United Voices for Children has enabled me to uniquely live into that call through social media community organizing, partnership building with a new advocacy organization, and deepening relationships with our child-serving agencies.
When I joined the board, there was a desire for an increased and consistent presence on social media. As someone who generates social media posts for work, this was a natural fit for me. Through our brainstorming sessions together as a board, we decided that building a community of advocates for the mission and work of UVC through social media platforms would have a greater impact than just producing more content. As a result, I formulated a proposal for a ‘Social Media Ambassador’ program that was unanimously approved by the board. After two intentional recruitment campaigns, we now have over two dozen Social Media Ambassadors who are committed to sharing UVC-generated social media posts twice a week through their networks. Not only has this been a great way to disperse relevant information regarding childhood advocacy and ways to be involved with UVC, but it has been a great way to connect with folks who are passionate about the flourishing of our children, their families, and our communities. If this excites you, please reach out to email@example.com to volunteer as a Social Media Ambassador today!
Another wonderful pursuit of the board has been building a new relationship with Voices for Illinois Children, an independent organization that utilizes data and research to intentionally advocate for particular policies and resources for Illinois children and their families. This partnership has enabled UVC to be more aware of the raw numbers, data, and tangible challenges facing our children and families in Illinois, as well as to know what policies, legislation, and other initiatives to champion in order to address those challenges. Through our work with Voices for Illinois Children, we recognized the need for a designated staff member on the board to intentionally focus our policy/legislative advocacy work. As a result, the brilliant Rev. Beverly Dukes joined us as the UVC Public Policy Coordinator. Rev. Dukes’ work has been shaping how UVC puts our mission into practice both in the present and future. It is so exciting to see our board move evermore in this direction under Rev. Dukes leadership.
The greatest joy of my time on the UVC board has been building a deeper relationship with our three partner child-serving agencies: Kids Above All, MYSI, and Rosecrance. These incredible organizations are doing invaluable work in our communities to ensure the flourishing of our children and their families. Each partner agency has an amazing representative on the board who reports about their agency’s business at each meeting. Being able to learn about the vital ministry work going on in our city through these agencies and discover the ways in which we, as individuals, as a board, and as a Church, can support the agencies in this work, is life-giving and inspiring. Furthermore, connecting the work, initiatives, and information coming from our agencies with our Social Media Ambassadors’ networks has been a great way to disseminate information and ways to participate even more widely. Kids Above All, MYSI, and Rosecrance are a blessing to Illinois children and their families. It has been a joy witnessing and participating in their work first hand through the UVC board.
Finally, being a part of the UVC board community of colleagues has been a pure delight. Each of my colleagues is involved in the ministry of child-advocacy in unique and vital ways. My time on the board has not only enabled me to live into my vocational call of educational ministry, but it has established deep and long lasting friendships, challenged me to grow as a person and child advocate, and connected me with a network of holy troublemakers with whom I plan to serve long into the future.
Are you passionate about child advocacy and the flourishing of Illinois children and their families? Please inquire about the board nomination process today by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always on the lookout for new change agents and child advocates to join our mission and vision at UVC!
Public policy for struggling children and families
August 23, 2021
After being in this pandemic for almost two years, many vulnerable children and families are still struggling. It is critically important for faith communities to advocate for public policies that support children and families to counter the effects from both the pandemic and poverty. Therefore, we must tell our political leaders to support policies that sustain and strengthen the overall well-being of children and families. We must urge our legislators to work collectively on behalf of these vulnerable members of our communities.
Supporting effective and life-giving public policies is how we can eradicate poverty, systemic racism, and the dire effects from this pandemic. This fight to level the playing field, and to provide every child the opportunity to be their very best, starts with good public policies such as the Child Tax Credit and The American Rescue Plan. These policies not only support vulnerable families but can change the trajectory of their lives.
Because these policies have the potential for alleviating the burden of poverty for so many children and families, let us do our part as the collective faith community and advocate for vulnerable children and families. Let us do our part tell our members of Congress to support public policies that help children and families. Let us do our part tell others to advocate for the needs of children and families. It is up to all of us to help children and families. Let us collectively do God’s good work.
Rev. Beverly Dukes, UVC Public Policy Coordinator
Make the Most of Another Pandemic-Impacted School Year
August 14, 2021
Submitted by Emily Lipinsky, Director of Development for the Rosecrance Foundation and Vice President UVC Board
As summer vacation winds down for students, a third pandemic-impacted school year approaches. Uncertainty and anxiety linger as people balance a wide range of priorities, including mental and emotional needs, to return to once-familiar ways of life, milestone celebrations and support systems.
During times of disruption, youth are more likely to be affected by mental health issues and use of negative coping skills such as substance use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that mental-health-related emergency room visits for adolescents ages 12-17 increased by 31 percent last year, and suicide attempts of girls were more than 50 percent higher from late February to late March 2021 compared to the same time in 2019.
“While some youth have the resiliency and coping skills to adjust to circumstances, many are struggling,” said Rosecrance Director of Outreach Mary Egan. “Those youth really have missed the structure, accountability, and connections of a school routine. Even though we’re trying to go back to normal, we can’t expect life and supports to immediately go back to what they were before the pandemic.”
Here are a few suggestions to help families begin the year strong:
- Watch for any behavior change, mood swings, altered sleep or eating patterns, or self-harm.
- Without becoming a helicopter parent, monitor children’s web and social media use for inappropriate content or conversations.
- Have open, honest conversations about current events and life stress as a family. If the adults are honest about their struggles, it will be easier for children to share their feelings.
- If you don’t feel comfortable discussing something with family, reach out to a trusted professional. For adults, that could be a counselor, therapist, or religious leader. For youth, that could be a school counselor or social worker.
- Take an occasional break. A walk, quick workout, mindfulness activities, reading books for fun, and other hobbies are excellent stress relievers.
In addition, Rosecrance offers a robust continuum of resources in the Back to School Virtual Resources Toolkit and Rosecrance Virtual hub that families and education professionals can utilize throughout the year. The back-to-school toolkit provides useful information such as a treatment roadmap, signs and symptoms of behavioral health issues, answers to frequently asked questions, and an introduction to the Rosecrance Café parent support group.
At the virtual hub, you will find information about assessments, prevention and early intervention (PEI), intensive outpatient therapy (IOP), interventions, the Rosecrance Family Program, the Alumni program, and a library of video presentations. Many of these services also are available in person.
In addition, we invite you to listen to the “On Your Radar” podcast. This is an ongoing series of conversations with Rosecrance experts hosted by WGN radio personality John Williams. The first six episodes in the series focus on substance use and mental health topics related to adolescents and their families.
“Working with teens can be difficult sometimes, and that is why it is so important to work together to support them,” Egan said. “When parents, families, schools, and behavioral health experts collaborate, it is easier to remove barriers to lasting recovery.”
2021 Illinois Kids Count Report Released
July 26, 2021
Poverty is a systemic and devastating economic condition that is pervasive throughout the United States. This adverse reality has a distressing effect on children, causing emotional, mental, and physical problems—and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated an already difficult situation for children and their families.
Voices for Illinois Children recently released is the 2021 Illinois KIDS COUNT Report, which examines child poverty before and during the pandemic through a multidimensional lens with analytical focuses on its many aspects. The information this report provides is essential for our continued efforts of child advocacy. The KIDS COUNT report will provide local congregations, missions, extended ministries, community organizers, constituents, stakeholders and other concerned citizens with information on why child poverty exists and how to eradicate it.
The work of social justice for Illinois’ children living in and below the poverty level can occur through our collective efforts. Our local churches and surrounding communities can do this work with God’s help so that every child in Illinois has enough resources and supports to be their best selves. The 2021 Illinois KIDS COUNT report is a tool and resource to assist all of us in this fight for social justice for every child living in Illinois and beyond. Click here to read the report.
Pastor Beverly Dukes, Policy Coordinator
A Step Towards Housing Security for Young Illinoisians
May 26, 2021
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of homelessness and unstable housing skyrocketed throughout Illinois. With a loss of employment for many Illinoisians and a significant drop in income for many more, housing security has become a major problem.
Without secure, stable and safe housing, families with children can suffer physically, mentally and emotionally. Without stable housing, children and youth find it harder to perform well in school. In addition, children and youth without the security and stability of housing find it more difficult getting to school at all. When families are faced with housing insecurities, it deeply and negatively affects the lives of children and youth.
On Monday, May 17, 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law bill HB2877. This new law provides resources to Illinoisians needing housing assistance and allows both Illinois renters and landlords to apply for assistance.
According to local news channel 1340 WJOL, “The Illinois Rental Payment Program (ILRPP) will deploy multiple rounds of funding totaling $1.1 billion to Illinois renters and landlords to prevent evictions. An additional $400 million in rental assistance will be provided by larger municipalities. The state will also be standing up a separate program to support homeowners with $400 million in mortgage assistance.”
This new law will change and save the lives of many families, children, and youth during times of peril. Let’s shared needed and valuable information with our congregations, our constituents, and residents in our communities. For more information about “The Illinois Rental Payment Program (ILRPP), please go to: illinoishousinghelp.org.
Rev. Beverly Dukes
Policy Coordinator, United Voices for Children
Advocating for LGBTQIA students
May 18, 2021
Children and youth are more successful in school when their basic needs are met. Students need to feel safe and to be loved and accepted. They need opportunities to grow and excel. They deserve readily available resources that will address their educational and developmental needs. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case for children who identify with the LGBTQIA community. In several states, efforts have been made and policies are being put in place to stifle the growth and development of children who identify as LGBTQIA.
In a blog entry on childtrends.org, author Deborah Temkin explains how policies are implemented that have targeted students who have identified as LGBTQIA. Temkim explained:
“Since the start of 2021, at least 32 state legislatures have proposed bills to authorize discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. These bills range from:
- Children’s access to gender-affirming health care.
- Requiring active parental permission for any discussion of LGBTQ+ topics or people in public school classes.
- At least 21 states, restricting the participation of transgender students in school athletics.”
To ensure that all students are supported in school settings, more needs to be done to safeguard their overall health and development. This includes supporting students who are in the LGBTQIA community. When one child suffers or is not provided needed resources, we as a society suffer. Therefore, it is important for all of us to contact our elected officials in Washington, D.C. and to tell them support legislation that provides educational fairness and equality to students in the LGBTQIA community.
To learn more about educational fairness and equality for LGBTQIA students, visit childtrends.org.
Rev. Beverly Dukes
Policy Coordinator, United Voices for Children
 Deborah Temkin, “Policies That Discriminate Against LGBTQ Students Are Not Aligned with Children Development Research,” in Trends Child (Publication Date: April 28, 2021) https://www.childtrends.org/blog/policies-that-discriminate-against-lgbtq-students-are-not-aligned-with-child-development-research