SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (IRN) — Thanks to overwhelming bipartisan support, House Bill 4304, which would require exit interviews for children age 5 and over who leave foster care homes, passed both houses of the Illinois legislature in March.

State Sen. Laura Ellman, D-Naperville, said passage of the legislation means that a child’s experience in a foster home will now be recorded within five days of their leaving the placement. The child’s own voice will become part of their case file and will be included in the record of the foster care family.

“When a child leaves a foster home, they will interview that child to hear, in their own words, what their experience was,” Ellman told The Center Square. “This is one more way to make sure that foster kids land in places that will give them good care.”

The exit interview questions are designed to provide data that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services can use to guide foster families and to provide the best placements for children.

The questions address basic needs, as well as comfort and safely, Ellman said. 

Examples of questions include: Was there enough food available? Did the child have appropriate clothing? What were the sleeping arrangements in the home? 

The interview questions are tailored to the age of the child, Ellman said. 

“You wouldn’t ask a 5-year-old, ‘Did you have adequate supervision,’” she said.

One goal of the interview is to determine if the child felt safe and comfortable in the home. Did the child feel included in the family? Was the child able to contact their caseworker, therapists or guardian?

“Did anything happen that made the child happy? Did anything happen that was scary or sad?” Ellman said. “What happened when the child did something that they should not have done?” 

Some children bounce around the system, going from placement to placement. Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, a sponsor of the bill in the House, is herself a veteran of the Illinois foster care system. She recalled moving from home to home “like a revolving door.”

Because the exit interviews will now be part of the child’s file, Ellman said she hopes caseworkers will better be able to spot particular needs that were not met, so that they will have a better success rate at the next placement.

There are already checks and balances in the system but this is just one more layer, Ellman said. 

If the interviewers detect evidence of abuse or neglect, that is reported immediately under the provisions of the Illinois Abused and Neglected Reporting Act. 

“They have to report that right away by calling the hotline,” Ellman said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the bill this spring.

By ANDREW HENSEL for the Illinois Radio Network