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More adventures in misgovernance

Friday, Dec 19, 2014

* AP

llinois’ child-welfare agency cannot properly account for thousands of runaway or otherwise missing foster care children, is sloppy about keeping track of when they disappear, and can rarely show that proper authorities are contacted when necessary, a report by Auditor General William Holland released Thursday found.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services does not keep track of how many children disappear in a given year or the locations from which they vanish, the audit found.

The agency reports that, during the 2011 and 2012 audit period, an estimated 2,800 to 3,100 foster children, or state wards, disappeared in 26,500 to 29,200 separate incidents.

The agency did not differentiate between those who had run away and those whose whereabouts caregivers did not immediately know. Of 29,000 incidents, 61 were reported as abductions, while the audit found 40 of those had been wrongly classified.

Holland noted that DCFS procedures emphasize “timely action to reduce risks to missing wards.”

The full report is here.

* From a House GOP press release…

Deputy House Minority Leader Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale), the Republican Spokesperson on the Human Services Appropriations Committee, responded to the audit’s findings and called upon lawmakers and DCFS officials to take appropriate action.

“There should be no higher priority for DCFS than ensuring the safety and welfare of children in the state’s care,” Bellock said. “These audit findings underscore the agency’s failure to meet that most basic necessity and how the lives of literally thousands of young people have been jeopardized as a result. Reforms are urgently needed to fix the broken system of reporting and locating missing kids. DCFS officials need to demonstrate what actions they’re taking to correct this tragedy and the General Assembly must be prepared to respond as needed to find and protect these kids.”

The House Human Services Committee is scheduled to meet in Chicago on January 7 to receive testimony regarding documented abuse at DCFS residential facilities. The Auditor General’s report on missing wards is also likely to be a subject of discussion for proposed reforms throughout the DCFS system.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Arizona Bob - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 9:16 am:

    These are the kinds of problems you get when the Governor regards state government as a patronage perk rather than a platform for effectively serving the needs of the public.

    Remember Quinn’s pick of Arthur Bishop, who had to resign after his criminal past was discovered?

    Great job vetting appointments, Pat.

    Then, instead of hiring someone who had experience in improving operations of similar departments elsewhere after a “national search”, he picks Bobbie Gregg, a NW law school classmate of Quinn’s and a longtime political hack for the City of Chicago Dem machine.

    No doubt she’s smart. There’s just nothing in her resume’ to suggest that she can reform a political patronage haven like DCFS to make it an effective, legal and competent service provider.

    One hopeful positive for Rauner is his ability to select effective leaders for key positions. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes appointments as Governor more about politics than performance.

    Don’t worry about Bobbie Gregg. They can set her up at a juiced-in law firm at double her DCFS director salary in a heartbeat.

  2. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 9:22 am:

    Some comparative data on caseloads and staffing from FY 2000 would be helpful. Seemingly the audit only has data for FYs 2011 and 2012 (Exhibit 2-3).

  3. - zatoichi - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 9:32 am:

    Four important questions:
    1. How big are the caseloads per caseworker?
    2. How much time is spent in court, school, counseling, writing reports, and with families?
    3. How much geographic area does each caseworker cover? Huge difference between Dupage and Coles County.
    4. How many times does each person run off: never or 2x a week?

    Make all the rules you want, when difficult caseloads are hitting 75+ per caseworker you got problems.

  4. - A guy... - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 9:36 am:

    Lost track of thousands of kids? Maybe abducted, maybe not. They aren’t sure? OMG. This is stunning.

  5. - Out Here In The Middle - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 9:37 am:

    I agree that comparisons with past years would help with perspective, but:

    “does not keep track of how many children disappear”

    Seriously? This seems kind of important if you are concerned about the welfare of these kids.

  6. - Give Me A Break - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 9:41 am:

    This is not a new issue. It was a huge issue when Rod came in.

    Something that could be at play here, and would impact the numbers of children and how they are classified, is in the past children were defined as missing when in fact, their location was known and many times they had left a placment and returned to their biological parent despite issues that led to their being placed in foster home. When that occured, and it often did with teenage wards, they had to be listed as missing from their placement.

    Not saying this is not an issue we should be concerned about, but how wards are classified as missing should be considered.

  7. - Carl Nyberg - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 9:51 am:

    Which states do this part of state governance well?

    How do states within the United States compare with their counterparts in Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Germany?

  8. - Arizona Bob - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 10:28 am:

    Anyone know how many patronage jobs and crony contracts we’re talking about here? I saw there are about 20 “directors” of various departments, and assume they’re mostly patronage jobs, but perhaps a few managers are just so good at their jobs (Kimme?) that keeping them is more important than political corruption.

    I think Rauner could make some real points here by placing a really competent CPA type to run the office for two years, then let the patronage and ego driven GOP folks fight out who will run for the spot in 2016.

    It seems with all the budgetary, corruption and incompetence issues in Illinois government(DCFS, IDOT, etc.)to be addressed, this battle isn’t worth Rauner using up much political capital to get his way.

    Just like Sam Houston picking San Jacinto for the spot to nail Santa Anna, you’ve gotta pick your spots to fight if you want to win the “war”. The comptroller office, considering the emotional loss of a popular politician associated with it, would seem more of a “Waterloo” than “San Jacinto” for Rauner in this case.

  9. - Arizona Bob - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 10:30 am:

    Sorry. the last post was supposed to go under the Comptroller office post.

  10. - VanillaMan - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 10:33 am:

    I’m not surprised. These are not stable cases to begin with. We have parents who flee the state with their children to avoid dealing with the state. There are parents being investigated fof abuse or endangement who have the ability to take their kids and leave no forwarding address.

    People are mobile.

  11. - DuPage - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 10:42 am:

    I hope Rauner does a better job with DCFS then he did with his nursing homes. The same problem in both instances seems to be understaffing.

  12. - sideline watcher - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 10:48 am:

    Need more staff. Caseworkers have loads to big to handle. That happens when you cut indiscriminately. We are running all of our agencies into the ground with such low head counts.

  13. - Stuff Happens - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 10:54 am:

    It’s not just about more staff, either. A huge part of it is retaining existing staff. It’s not uncommon to have a new caseworker every month. There’s a learning curve and more time spent every time a new person is involved.

  14. - Cassandra - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 11:15 am:

    I’d have to see the numbers before I assumed that the problem is high caseloads. The high numbers of missing/runaway state wards had become not just a state but a national issue when Blago took over in 2003, and (after Blago pressured Jess McDonald into resigning)I believe his first DCFS director set up a special missing kids unit, whose employees didn’t carry caseloads but only looked for missing wards. Not sure if this unit still exists, but it was an effort to address the problem. And now here we are again, over 10 years later.

    My point: this seems to be a perennial problem which needs yet another look, including extensive data analysis. How do we define missing when, say, teens are involved. And if the wards are running to their natural homes constantly, isn’t it time to release guardianship and return them home under supervision, since that’s where they’ll be anyway? And in the age of texting and twittering and Skype, how could any caseworker be out of touch with the wards in his caseload.

  15. - Enviro - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 11:16 am:

    Toni Preckwinkle had an informative letter in Voice of the People in today’s Tribune concerning children held in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Cook County. She points out that the need for placing children in foster homes and detention centers is caused by the high incarceration rate of the parents of poor children. Preckwinkle sees a need to reduce the number of parents who are unable to care for their children because of incarceration for nonviolent offences, mental illness and drug dependency.

    The high incarceration rate in Illinois and in the United States causes many problems and needs to be addressed.

  16. - RNUG - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 11:18 am:

    There are lots of compassinate and competant caseworkers and staff at DCFS but they’ve been put through the wringer from budget cuts and are currently suffering whiplash from conflicting instructions from multiple directors in a very short period of time. What this agency needs more than anything else is a director that (a) udnerstands the issues, (b) has the clout to get the needed resources and (c) will be around for the multiple years it will take to get things back to a more or less normal state. And of these, right now (c) is actually the most important because you can’t fix problems when you are given conflicting directions on a regular basis.

  17. - Very Fed Up - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 11:18 am:

    Perhaps Quinn could assign some “Staff assistants” to help look into the issue?

  18. - anon - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 11:36 am:

    Give Quinn all the blame. If Rauner expects to improve DCFS, however, it won’t happen by slashing staff and resources to balance the budget.

  19. - mythoughtis - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 12:35 pm:

    Why aren’t the foster families (who are being paid by the state) reporting the children missing directly to the Police? The children are residing there, that’s the first place they should be missing from. It should be their responsibility in the immediate sense. Once they have done that, then they should be filing a report to the state agency… not waiting for the state agency to come on their designated visit before reporting it.

  20. - Wordslinger - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 12:54 pm:

    The auditor general does outstanding work. If you really want to know how government operates, they are a must read.

    Because of the reporting problems, hard to get a handle as to what’s going on with the wards. I think that’s the point.

  21. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 12:59 pm:

    After reading the report, this is horrifying. There are no acceptable excuses for something like this.

    Policy is two days to complete the form for reporting a child missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Department average was six days. In one case, it took 98 days to do so. The list of problems like this is lengthy.

    Learning of these problems from the auditor rather than the agency itself indicates there are people who were too incompetent to realize this problem was occurring, too incompetent to fix it, too careless to address it, or too morally and politically corrupt to make it public knowledge and chose instead to try and keep this quiet while ==coping== with the agency’s problems.

  22. - Demoralized - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 1:17 pm:


    I invite you to go spend some time with some of the caseworkers and then come back and tell us all how incompetent, careless and corrupt they are.

    I had the opportunity to tag along on some field work with a caseworker one time. It’s an extremely difficult job. And this person didn’t just work their stated 8 to 5 schedule. They went out at all hours trying to track people down.

    So, I think I’d be careful at how you portray your outrage. Should we be outraged? Absolutely. I just think your outrage is misguided.

  23. - Carl Nyberg - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 1:30 pm:

    Notice how White guys view government jobs mostly held by women and people of color?

    White guys want these jobs to have low pay, unrealistic working conditions and then they want to blame the workers when things go badly. (And they’ll blame management if it suits the political agendas of the White guy shooting his mouth off.)

  24. - carbaby - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 1:36 pm:

    Private agency staff account for more than 85% of the caseloads- with DCFS workers working the remaining 15%. So keep that in mind instead of brushing a broad brush thinking this is a DCFS worker issue- this is a Child Welfare issue.

    The caseloads for traditional/relative cases have been around 18-25 for a long time. There have been no caseloads at over 50-150 since in the mid to late 1990’s. However, the new expectations and ever increasing protocols for a caseworker have far exceeded the assistance that the reduction in caseloads would have most people believe. I would never want to be a caseworker now- nor would I wish to return to management in child welfare at any agency nor DCFS.

    I see many systemic problems with what has been uncovered in this audit and given what I know I am not surprised. I am also considering that this policy and protocol has been in place for I believe over 10 years. There was a dedicated Run unit that followed these cases but I recall that dissolved due to budget cuts a few years ago.

  25. - Charlatan Heston - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 2:15 pm:

    @ carbaby -I love when you weigh in on child welfare/DCFS. Thanks

  26. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 2:50 pm:

    Demoralized - my outrage is not focused on the people grinding away, trying to make the best of a bad situation.

    My outrage is reserved for the higher-tier leaders who know about these problems and keep their mouths shut due to personal and political considerations rather than raising heck about it.

    We should not just be hearing about these issues from the Auditor and AP. We should be hearing about these issues from the most senior leaders of the department, who are explaining the problems they found when they took over and the proactive steps they are taking to fix them. If that includes publicly calling out the ILGA or the Governor for funding shortfalls, then so be it. Losing kids is not a just a difficulty of the job, it is a five alarm fire.

  27. - carbaby - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 3:27 pm:

    FKA- the most senior leaders at DCFS do not monitor the private agencies in this way to know the day to day operations and data from them. The way in which private agencies are monitored by DCFS is through the Agency Performance Team, as well as Agency Licensing and Contracts to name a few.
    Again since Private Agencies hold 85% of all cases, the heads of the agencies should be held accountable for their staff and their performance because they overwhelming hold the majority stake of all children in state care and provide the majority of all services to children and families in this State. DCFS is the always the funder and regulatory body- and rarely the service provider.

  28. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Dec 19, 14 @ 3:43 pm:

    Formerly Known As…

    Agency management can NEVER talk about such things, as it re-opens the whole issue of headcount and funding.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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