Daughter of DCFS chief says he ignored her

February 26, 2014

By: Chris Fusco, Frank Main and Tony Arnold

Peter Holderness/Sun-Times
Erica Bishop is the daughter of Arthur Bishop, the head of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She says he’s ignored her for most of her life, and he doesn’t deserve to be in charge of the state’s child welfare agency.

An update to this developing story: Paperwork filed Wednesday with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn indicates he has named a new acting director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, replacing Arthur Bishop.

A daughter of the director of the state agency overseeing the welfare of children wonders how he can do the job since he has shunned her for her entire life.

In the nearly 11 years since DNA testing proved that Arthur D. Bishop was her father, Erica Bishop has had two kids of her own — a boy and a girl who’ve never met their grandfather.

To her, the man now charged with caring for the state’s most troubled children is nothing more than a “sperm donor,” not her dad.

“He’s supposed to be protecting the kids of the state — and you’ve got a kid out here you never done anything for,” Erica Bishop, now 27, says. “He left me as a father, which I think that’s unfair to me and it’s unfair to my kids. . . . As far as them wanting to keep giving him higher positions to look over people’s kids, I don’t agree.”

Erica Bishop agreed to be interviewed by WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times after the news organizations disclosed earlier this month that Bishop pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge in 1995 for stealing from clients of a social service agency and was sued by Erica’s mother for back child support in a 2003 paternity case.

Quinn administration aides have said those court cases are decades old and shouldn’t tarnish the stellar work that Arthur Bishop has done as a child advocate — from his time as a DCFS caseworker to his last job as head of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice.

Erica Bishop bristles at that suggestion.

“I haven’t went away. I’m never gonna go away,” she says. “This is just something he stuck on the backburner, and I’ve been on the backburner for [nearly] 28 years. . . . So for people to say I’m in the past, I’m not in the past. I’m in the past only because nobody knows about me.

“You supposed to be a child advocate and a minister and all this stuff. . . . I watched videos of him on YouTube. All these little boys giving him so much praise . . . sitting down and talking to him like a father. A father? Seriously? A father? He’s sitting down telling these little boys, ‘I want to talk to you. I want to have a father-to-son talk with you.’ You never had a father-and-daughter talk with me.”

Arthur Bishop, 61, has declined interview requests. His appointment as DCFS director still must be confirmed by the Illinois Senate; no date for his confirmation hearing has been set. DCFS and the Quinn administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Erica’s mother, Yolanda O’Connor, claimed in court filings that Arthur Bishop knew Erica was his daughter from the time she was born in 1986, while Bishop was married to his current wife.

He “denies his own daughter’s existence when he knows in his heart of hearts that he visited us on numerous occasions at my parents’ house when she was a child,” O’Connor, who didn’t have an attorney, wrote in a December 2003 court filing.

Arthur Bishop maintained he’d never met Erica and didn’t know O’Connor claimed Erica was his daughter until O’Connor served him with court papers.

The case ended with O’Connor winning a $4,175 judgment and health insurance coverage for Erica until she turned 18. But a judge denied O’Connor’s request for back child support after Arthur Bishop argued she’d “in fact concealed” that he was Erica’s father.

Erica Bishop recalls meeting her father when she was in high school before her mom sued him.

Her mother, she says, drove a friend and her to meet Bishop at his DCFS office at the Thompson Center, where Bishop at first mistook Erica’s friend as his daughter even though the two “have the same face.”

“He went to my friend and talked to her. And I’m like, ‘Hello? She’s not your daughter, I am,’ ” Erica Bishop recalls. “Honestly, I was actually excited. And he killed my excitement.”

The five- to 10-minute encounter was the longest the two have spoken,  but Erica Bishop has seen her father — and her half-siblings — at various times.

Arthur Bishop has lived in Maywood for years, and Erica Bishop grew up in nearby Bellwood. Erica’s stepbrother went to the same high school as Bishop’s son and daughter, she says.

Erica, who paid for her own college and now works as a waitress, says she would have liked the opportunity to get to know her siblings. “Somewhere down the line, yeah, I wanted to know my brother and sister because I think we deserve to know each other. They might have kids. And I have kids,” she says.

She also says she isn’t interested in getting any more money from Bishop, who makes $150,000 a year as DCFS chief.

“It’s fortunate that I did have somebody to take care of me and show me how to ride a bike and see me off to prom and go to all my graduations: high school, 8th grade, college,” she says of the stepfather who helped raise her.

“He has not been there for any of that,” she says of Arthur Bishop. “Financially, he can keep his money. He can die with it.

“I feel like I was cheated. You took care of your other kids. Why you didn’t take care of me? . . . All I want is an explanation.”

Chris Fusco and Frank Main are Sun-Times staff reporters. Tony Arnold is a reporter for WBEZ.