* From a May 9 Tribune story on then-DCFS Director George Sheldon…
In Florida, Sheldon worked closely with the Clearwater-based nonprofit called Eckerd Kids, which last year took in $169 million in government contracts to run child welfare and other programs in that state and others.
In Illinois, DCFS under Sheldon gave Eckerd a $375,000 contract to help develop a web-based program to pinpoint abuse and neglect investigations with the highest probability of serious injury or death to children.
In contract submissions filed as part of its Illinois DCFS contract, Eckerd touted the “remarkable” accomplishments of its predictive analytics method in Florida’s Hillsborough County, where it won a $65 million annual state contract to oversee child welfare services there in 2012.
But the firm has been embroiled in a series of controversies there, according to published reports. In October, a court-appointed advocate filed a lawsuit alleging that Eckerd and a subcontractor negligently placing a minor brother and sister in the home of an accused sexual predator. Eckerd separately acknowledged last year that 43 children were forced to sleep in offices and other unlicensed locations because Eckerd had run out of foster beds — after initially telling Tallahassee media that 17 youth were sleeping in the offices.
* Like much of what Sheldon did here, that contract has not turned out well and DCFS has announced its demise…
Two Florida firms — the nonprofit Eckerd Connects and its for-profit partner, Mindshare Technology — mined electronic DCFS files and assigned a score of 1 to 100 to children who were the subject of an abuse allegation to the agency hotline. The algorithms rated the children’s risk of being killed or severely injured during the next two years, according to DCFS public statements.
But caseworkers were alarmed and overwhelmed by alerts as thousands of children were rated as needing urgent protection. More than 4,100 Illinois children were assigned a 90 percent or greater probability of death or injury, according to internal DCFS child-tracking data released to the Tribune under state public records laws.
And 369 youngsters, all under age 9, got a 100 percent chance of death or serious injury in the next two years, the Tribune found.
At the same time, high-profile child deaths kept cropping up with little warning from the predictive analytics software, DCFS officials told the Tribune.
One child who did not get a high-risk score was 17-month-old Semaj Crosby, who was found dead under a couch in her Joliet Township home in April following at least 10 DCFS abuse investigations and an ongoing “intact family” care plan.