Valerie Beguin paints a picture of the scenes she encountered as a former investigator with Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS)…A phone call is made to the Illinois Child Abuse Hotline which initiates an investigation within 24 hours. The anonymous caller reports seeing his neighbor severely beating her 9-year-old son. An investigation by DCFS begins the process of determining risk. Collateral contacts are completed—the reporting neighbor that he has witnessed three similar beatings of this child in the past month.
With this knowledge, the DCFS investigator travels to the home with a law enforcement officer and interviews all members of the household, ultimately concluding that the 9-year-old is at imminent risk due to his injuries and must be removed to a safe environment. The boy’s belongings—pajamas, toothbrush, favorite stuffed animal—are swiftly gathered and tossed into a garbage bag. Chaos erupts as the mother realizes her child is being taken into temporary custody. Within 48 hours, the juvenile court system becomes involved, and plans are developed to improve the situation in the home pending the child’s return.
The parents of this child are fully cooperative—working toward the return of their son, they participate in mandatory counseling and parenting classes learning alternative disciplinary methods. DCFS recommends to the court that the child returns home and will closely monitor the household. The Juvenile Court System agrees, the child returns home.
This situation is reminiscent of the first time Valerie removed a child from his home. She watched him fill a black trash bag with the few belongings he could carry. That image stayed with her after she retired following 20-plus years with DCFS, placing hundreds of children in foster care.
Fast forward to today. Valerie, her husband Dan Duback, and son Bob Beguin (who resides in the Chicago area) lead a grassroots nonprofit called Fostering Dignity from their homes. Their mission is to bring comfort to a victim of child abuse at the time he or she is most vulnerable. They accomplish this mission by providing DCFS offices throughout Illinois with backpacks available to the frontline workers carrying out investigations. This enables the victim to carry his or her belongings in a dignified carrier instead of a garbage bag, with its obvious connotations.
She explains her time at DCFS: “You can imagine the flood of suppressed memories—most heartbreaking, a few inspiring … For me the task of removing a child from an abusive environment never felt like a victory. The awareness that any child existed in a situation so harmful and destructive that the only solution is to remove that child from everything he knows is incomprehensible. Your responsibility as a DCFS investigator is to protect a victim from ‘imminent danger’ and place him in a licensed foster home or with a safe relative. Imagine that child putting his belongings in a trash bag while leaving everything familiar and a stranger taking him to a foster family of strangers. No child should ever receive the message that his precious belongings are garbage. A life so fragile, so confused and abused … We need your help to serve this invisible child.”
When afforded the opportunity to present Fostering Dignity’s cause to like-minded groups including Rotary, Kiwanis, Youth Engaged in Philanthropy (YEP), and similar service oriented organizations she shares a 5-minute exercise to illustrate just what these children are experiencing. She asks audience members to write down five important items—a treasured smell, person, place to be, possession, and taste. Then, one by one, she has them cross each item off their list. “That’s what these kids are experiencing,” Valerie says. “Imagine what they’re going through. Everything familiar has been taken away. We will never be certain if that backpack made a difference for that kid, but the $5 investment is certainly worthwhile.”
Fostering Dignity launched in 2013, connecting with Illinois Prairie Community Foundation (IPCF), a public charity that acts as fiscal sponsor for nonprofits, offering guidance, grant opportunities, and support. IPCF also accepts and manages donations, and provides credibility to Fostering Dignity.
She and Dan give credit where credit is due. “Our project would not exist without Cheryl and Bill Budde … The Budde family has voluntarily delivered thousands and thousands of backpacks throughout Illinois to DCFS field offices. Cheryl and Bill are wholly invested in our mission via fundraising and support every phase of Fostering Dignity.”
Dan adds, “After you dig in, you clean your glasses and recognize the need. In 2019 we supplied 1,400 backpacks to DCFS offices throughout Illinois. We are falling short, as over 4,000 children are placed in foster care each year. With the help of 50 Plus News & Views getting the word out, we will continue to increase the number of backpacks made available.”
You may contact Fostering Dignity at 309-728-2696 or visit www.fosteringdignity.org. Donations may be sent by mail to: IPCF Fostering Dignity, 915 E. Washington St., Suite 2, Bloomington, IL 61701. Please make checks out to IPCF-Fostering Dignity. Or you can donate via Paypal: fosteringdignity.org/donations