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“Well-being is nice, but death is what lands in the papers”

Thursday, Oct 4, 2012

* Either this is irresponsible hyperbole to prevent lawmakers from overriding the governor’s veto of the prison budget cuts (Quinn wants to use the prison money for DCFS), or it’s a stark admission that Illinois is a failure at protecting kids. Read every, single word of these two paragraphs

In the wake of an estimated $90 million budget cut, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has slashed a program that works to keep kids with their families and is shifting focus from prevention to meeting its legal obligations and simply keeping kids alive.

“We took a look at how could we minimize our risk and still maintain the level of services that we are responsible for. When I say minimize risk, I’m talking about death of children. Because that’s ultimately what the Department of Children and Family Services is responsible for, is protecting children from dying,” DCFS Director Richard Calica told a Senate committee at a Chicago hearing. He added, “Well-being is nice, but death is what lands in the papers, and death is what I’m responsible for.” Calica said the reduction means the agency would reduce services that are not required by law or consent decrees.


The union and Calica urged legislators to approve supplemental spending for the agency to either eliminate or soften the blow of the cuts. Quinn has spoken out against the cuts, too. However, AFSCME opposes the funding source that he has suggested to pay for supplemental spending. Quinn is asking lawmakers to sustain his vetoes of funding to keep open several state facilities that employ AFSCME members and instead spend the money at DCFS. […]

[Calica] said that the changes at the agency are the product of the budget approved by the General Assembly. “The layoffs that you’ve been hearing about have to do with the budget that you all passed. You gave me the mandate to save $27 million. I don’t know how to save that without firing people, and I don’t know how to choose other than to choose based on the well-being of the children that I’m responsible for.”

[DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe] reiterated his boss’ statements about the department’s priorities, albeit in a slightly less blunt fashion. “We have core responsibilities to safety, permanency [of placement of children either back with their families or in adoptive homes] and well-being. But permanency and well-being can’t happen if a child is [not] safe. We need to protect lives. And in tight times, we still work to give children permanency and well-being, but we do have to prioritize their lives and their safety.” But both acknowledge that scaling back the intact families program could lead to more children becoming wards of the state. However, Marlowe said that he suspects it would not be a substantial increase.


I mean… discuss.

Actually, both.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - South of Sherman - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 10:43 am:

    Appalling, but is it inaccurate?

    Are there other options besides slashing staff to make up that kind of shortfall?

    Isn’t keeping kids safe from physical injury or death the number one priority? If choices must be made, don’t they have to err on the side of keeping kids alive versus the more difficult task of reuniting them with potentially abusive parents?

    And isn’t this a perfect example of how the constant drumbeat of cutting government and minimizing the value of public sector workers is a dangerous, reckless stunt that causes real harm to real people?

  2. - Wensicia - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 10:51 am:

    In my opinion, the child’s safety should always be the top priority.

  3. - AC - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 10:52 am:

    Cuts have real, human costs. I’m not sure the statements made are really that hyperbolic. Since very little fat is left in government, practically every cut is one which cuts to the bone. Overcrowding prisons and cuts to DCFS services all have death as a potential, and even likely outcome.

  4. - Ahoy! - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 10:55 am:

    Budgets are just big bills that need to be passed until you realize that some children’s lives are at stake. The saddest part is that this is not hyperbole, it’s a very real problem that DCFS is facing. They have to have the resources to protect children. I believe child welfare and education should be the top priorities of the state, which means the top priority’s of the budget process. If this means reducing pension costs by reasonable means so be it. No one is going to die because they receive a simple COLA instead of a compounded COLA, some cuts to child welfare means children are at risk of dying or long term abuse.

  5. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 10:56 am:

    I suspect there’s some hyperbole. DCFS is not the sole protector of childrens’ lives.

    If DCFS suspects a child’s life is being threatened, they need to bring in law enforcement, immediately.

    That would greatly expand the resources available in protecting the child.

  6. - OneMan - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 10:58 am:

    It might be hyperbole but..

    “Well-being is nice, but death is what lands in the papers, and death is what I’m responsible for.”

    Since death lands in the papers, that is going to be your focus?

  7. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:03 am:

    word, law enforcement can’t be at a home enough hours in a week to protect a child. They can arrest one or both parents, or remove the child from the home. That puts us right where the Director says we are; not having enough resources to work on preserving families, just protecting the child by taking him/her out of the family into foster care. And to me he is exactly right. If you can’t effectively ensure the child’s safety within the family setting, you take them out.

  8. - Madison - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:05 am:

    I KNOW there is much more waste in other places. Why we pay people more than 50 dollars an hour to say they are plunging stools at DHS and cutting child welfare employees instead is the reason the state is hopelessly mismanaged. They should start laying off administrators and not stop until its fixed.

  9. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:07 am:

    Madison, give us a break from superficial
    comments. This is a serious issue, doesn’t lend itself to drive-bys.

  10. - collar observer - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:08 am:

    I agree with AC’s statement - except maybe with using the phrase “very little fat.” Service is people-driven. I wish we could stop calling human service “fat”. As all of the deep cuts are made, agencies are forced to the bare minimum of what they can do. Hyperbole here? Maybe - but I hope it does it’s job of helping folks re-think a bit about how we spend our tax dollars.

  11. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:22 am:

    This is the impact of underfunding government. I expect to hear more of these stories as we move closer toward the sun-setting of the tax increase. People seem to want all of the services without having to pay for them, and you can imagine the outcry if a child under DCFS’s supervision dies. So, I’m not sure if this is hyperbole.

    Anyone who thinks we can afford to let the tax increase expire is delusional.

  12. - Aldyth - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:23 am:

    Pretty much all of human services is reduced to the level where any other cuts will result in not being able to keep people safe.

  13. - walkinfool - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:26 am:

    Realistic, though grim.

    When sorting thru the competing claims for state funds from different human service contractors and Agencies, the question: “Will people actually die if we cut these funds?” has become a key qualifier. Some can actually answer and demonstrate “Yes”.

  14. - Reality Check - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:26 am:

    A supplemental of $27 million will save Intact Family Services. Providing it doesn’t require sustaining Quinn’s vetoes or making any other cuts. The Governor himself just announced the state cashed $165 million in checks from the federal government for the sale of Thomson prison — money that is unallocated. And the most recent COGFA revenue projection is $161 million higher than FY 2013 spending. Together that’s more than 12 times the money needed to restore this essential program.

    Here’s the rub: The director and Gov. Quinn *say* they don’t want to make the cuts. If that’s so, they should defer the layoffs until after the veto session.

  15. - zatoichi - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:31 am:

    This is a perfect example of the antiseptic spread sheet goals vs. the real impact those dollars really have. It’s easy to talk ‘waste’ and what should be cut particularly when the issue is hard actually to visualize outside of a stereotype without a concrete example. It’s a whole different animal when the person in charge of reaching those spread sheet goals says ‘to hit that I must cut enough staff that preventing death becomes the focus since there will simply not be enough people around to do anything else’. AC is right. Cuts have real human costs. Cost to the people directly affected and the actual real dollars required to provide the services. Not too many free volunteers at DCFS. At the same time, following Sherman’s idea, how many #1 priorities can exist at any time? Children, elderly, schools, disabled, medical, unemployed, infrastructure? Which is it? There are real costs to cutting dollars. This DCFS issue is just one simple example that catches people’s attention.

  16. - carbaby - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:34 am:

    Apparently the Director failed to let them know that the lay-off has been postponed until further notice- the notification was posted on D-Net on 10/1 at around 11am. Staff were told to report to their current positions- which was ironic because they showed up to their new positions by 9am only to be told two hours later something different. Perhaps the Director was anticipating that the funding was going to be restored and in speaking with my contacts in Springfield, that is one school of thought. I can copy and paste the posting if anyone would like to see it.

    Intact services are about providing services for lower level risk allegations of abuse/neglect so that the family can remain together. Taking custody of children is due to a much more significant level of safety and risk that would be more associated with the potential of serious harm that could lead to death. If a child is at imminent risk of harm- that is a custody/placement case- not intact. This just demonstrates to me the Director is utilizing this as a sensationalized tactic. He would have been better served to identify the real issues/facts and by providing the cost analysis of providing intact services in comparison to placement/foster care. Intact providers are paid so minimally per family to provide a monumental task it really is a travesty. Intact costs about 20% of what a foster care case costs- and even less when the children have specialized needs. Intact cases are paid on a family basis whereas foster care is per child.

    The new criteria for Intact was extracted from a study from Chaffee that was specifically regarding Integrated Assessment screener involvement and had absolutely nothing to do with Intact services- some staff have referred to this as the Pelican Brief.

  17. - what the? - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 11:45 am:

    Reality Check - your suggestion of using the proceeds of the sale of Thomson make sense, however, cash deposited in the bank does not translate into automatic authority for DCFS to keep on spending. DCFS will need the legislature to approve additional funding. They will have to get in line with others who total around $8 billion in suggestion on how to use the $160 million.

    As to suspending the layoffs until after veto session - that may not be the best move. DCFS had to figure out how many employees to lay off, and when it had to occur to live within their funding levels. Delay of layoffs until after Veto Session could result in even more layoffs if the legislature does not restore any funding or if it restores an amount less than what is saved by the layoffs.

    i give the DCFS director credit for standing up to the legilsators. he is basically telling them “you put DCFS in this situation with the budget you passed, this is how I am dealing with it”

    Time for the legislature to either help out or get out of the way.

  18. - carbaby - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 12:12 pm:

    I’m also thinking that perhaps he could have had a frank discussion about a couple of the real reasons the DCFS budget was cut in the manner it was. There is still quite of bit of anger lingering pertaining to McEwen, the Dr. Smith contracts and what other contracts may have been granted during his time that could have been on the chopping block.
    The $27 million cut from personnel services was also related to blowback from the raises and perhaps it was hoped that several administrative staff would be cut to help out the gap.
    The Director is having to deal with those two issues which of course he had no part of.

  19. - MathCounts - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 12:20 pm:

    What the ? makes good points.

    I’d add that atleast in the House, leaders were clear that any “new” revenue should be used to pay off old bills.

    Until we hear otherwise from the General Assembly, there is no reason to expect lawmakers to pass a supplemental approp. And even then, until the General Assembly acts, the director has no legal authority to spend the money.

  20. - Newsclown - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 12:33 pm:

    The state’s agencies are now mired in a “triage mentality”. They’ve stopped planning for any better futures, and are struggling just to meet minimum legal requirements and keep people alive. Really? “Well, at least we kept them alive” is the very best we can hope for now? If they wanted to gin up an anti-encumbent sentiment for legislators and the governor prior to an election, boy, this is very effective.

  21. - Reality Check - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 12:46 pm:

    until the General Assembly acts, the director has no legal authority to spend the money

    The technical term for this is baloney. DCFS approp for FY 13 is nowhere close to exhausted, of course.

    Perhaps Schnorf can tell us how governors have always maintained critical priorities despite knowing a supplemental would be necessary, and while–instead of taking potshots at the legislature–advocating to secure it.

    As Rich suggests, the only apparent reason for these layoffs is to further some kind of game the governor is playing. In that game, at-risk kids are Pat Quinn’s pawns. Disgusting indeed.

  22. - wishbone - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 1:04 pm:

    As long as we keep funding that vital state fair everyone should be happy.

  23. - Liandro - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 1:08 pm:

    “And isn’t this a perfect example of how the constant drumbeat of cutting government and minimizing the value of public sector workers is a dangerous, reckless stunt that causes real harm to real people?”

    No, this is a perfect example of what happens when you put off the cuts for far too long. Now debts/interest, missing federal match funds, and shrinking budget space is not just looming ahead, but actually hurting us right now. Has been for years.

    If you’ve ever seen a business fail, or a person going bankrupt, this is part of what it looks like…critical expenses can’t be made. Horrific decisions land on people’s laps, whether they want them or not. Perhaps we aren’t there yet, and this is hyperbole, but we’re close enough that it’s starting to look very ugly under the microscope.

  24. - Liandro - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 1:10 pm:

    FWIW, I think there is a heavy dash of hyperbole there, but my knowledge of DCFS is strictly limited to cursory reading–I hope some lawmakers are doing some deep analysis of the situation.

  25. - Jerome Horwitz - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 1:16 pm:

    What is DCFS legally mandated to do?

  26. - Irish - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 1:30 pm:

    What was the DCFS budget cut this year by the Governor? (He set the amounts not the GA.)

    It appears as though the DCFS budget should have been left alone or increased by the 2.89% that was instead given to CMS. How does an agency that sucks money from all other agencies deserve an increase when an Agency like DCFS gets cut? What does CMS do that if they didn’t have the extra money would put people in harms way?

    This is on the Governor. He rewarded his cronies and the agencies where he could hide them and cut the Agencies where he couldn’t. HE put kids in danger by his little games.

  27. - MathCounts - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 1:39 pm:

    @RealityCheck -

    unlike some recent years where lump sum budgets were enacted, this year the General Assembly enacted a line item budget. the director cant spend money on payroll that was appropriated for something else.

    moreover, if you want to have a good relationship with the legislature, I would advise against simply ignoring appropriations. That’s part of what got Rod in hot water.

  28. - cermak_rd - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 1:42 pm:

    If a child is at risk from his guardian, he needs to be removed pronto and I see no reason to waste money trying for a reunification with such a dangerous person or family circumstance. Here’s the rub though, foster care isn’t cheap either and it also needs policing to make sure dangerous people aren’t slipping through the checks. Also, foster children do the poorest of all CPS subgroups, whether that’s due to the impermanent condition of fostering, the tragic reason they’re in foster care in the first place, or it’s a proxy for class, I’m not sure.

  29. - cassandra - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 1:56 pm:

    If the intact cases are being or have been transferred to private agencies, as we read a few weeks ago, why wouldn’t the layoffs of intact workers go forward. If the legislature restores the monies, the number of available slots could be increased, using the restored monies.

    And speaking of restoring monies, this might not be the best time for Calica to be getting into a spitting match with a legislative committee. They hold the keys to the money box after all. And I’ve heard this isn’t the first time they’ve clashed.

    Probably the biggest risk to the kids involved w/DCFS right now is the chaos within DCFS itself, with lots of folks either transferring their job duties while waiting to be laid off or being temporarily assigned to investigations, or being assigned then pulled back as described by carbaby above. Transitions can be dangerous and in a complex system like DCFS, this kind of chaos can lead to serious mistakes, however inadvertent.

  30. - reformer - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 2:24 pm:

    If I understand correctly, AFSCME places a higher priority on the jobs of prison guards than on jobs of DCFS caseworkers — and the children they protect.

  31. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 2:56 pm:

    Schnorf, I think we’re largely in agreement.

    While law enforcement, obviously, can’t be in the home enough hours a week, neither can DCFS, given current resources. My point was that when it’s a matter of child endangerment, DCFS is not the sole agency that can be employed.

    I have no doubts that the cuts that been made throughout state and local government the last couple of years are going to hurt real people. No doubts at all.

  32. - carbaby - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 3:07 pm:

    reformer- I would not characterize it that way. I see this as a no win situation for them- it’s essentially pitting one group of employees against another. I will say the DCFS lay offs also disproportionately impacts the regions outside of Cook- specifically downstate in Central and Southern regions but in no way has as dramatic a impact as the prison closures.

  33. - MathCounts - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 3:19 pm:

    @Irish -

    You got your facts wrong. The governor recommended trimming the DCFS budget by around $50 million. The General Assembly cut an additional $40 million.

    Cermak makes an important but understated point. Prevention programs not only save money in DCFS down the road by reducing foster care. Abused and neglected children are much more likely to need special education. A recent study found that exposure to as few as four traumatic events can permanently alter a child’s brain chemistry.

    Abused and neglected children also obviously have higher health costs, often borne by the taxpayers through Medicaid. And then there’s the long-term likelihood that an abused child is more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. Researchers have found that while there are genetic markers that indicate a predisposition to violent criminal behavior, those genes are triggered by childhood abuse.

    When the General Assembly cuts prevention programs, it creates much bigger and more expensive problems down the road. With compounding interest.

    The math is pretty straight forward.

  34. - kbc - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 5:31 pm:

    has anyone looked at the salaries he pays his so called top people? there are other ways to save at dcfs. what about his agency he worked for before coming to dcfs?

  35. - Walk in my shoes - Thursday, Oct 4, 12 @ 6:09 pm:

    I sat in the appropriation hearings for both the House and Senate for FY2013. I was appalled by the way money is allocated. As someone pretty new to the political game it was an eye opener. During the meeting many representatives questioned the increase in payments to CMS by various agencies. No clear answer was ever given for those increases. The cost of using the State Air Fleet was also brought up as it operates/charges per flight not enough to cover the cost. One representative compared the $32.00 round trip cost from Chicago to Soringfield on the metro compared to the hundreds of dollars it cost to use the plane. He stated it was time “we” stop treating ourselves like the monarchy. I imagine there are hundreds of examples of waste; however they do not grab the media attention that DCFS, education and prisons do. I also remember many scandals involving DCFS and funding to people/programs that were not what they were presented to be. I do not believe it a a choice between DCFS, education or prisons. I do believe it is a dangerous game being played by the Governor and his spokespeople. The real losers are the citizens of Illinois.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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