Capitol - Your Illinois News Radar » *** UPDATED x1 - NASW cautions not to pile on new IG *** ACLU lawyer criticizes Rauner admin for replacing longtime DCFS watchdog with “insider”
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*** UPDATED x1 - NASW cautions not to pile on new IG *** ACLU lawyer criticizes Rauner admin for replacing longtime DCFS watchdog with “insider”

Monday, Jan 29, 2018


The longtime top watchdog for Illinois’ troubled child-welfare system — who’s been highly critical of the agency’s former director leading up to his resignation amid a corruption scandal last year — is now being replaced by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced last week he’s appointing a replacement to Denise Kane, who was the first-ever inspector general for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. […]

Kane’s colleagues in the child welfare system are calling her tenure as “effective,” “fearless,” and “tenacious.”

The change in leadership comes after Kane published what will be her final annual report of DCFS, which included a biting critique of former Director George Sheldon’s leadership. Sheldon resigned last year under the cloud of a corruption investigation by Kane’s office into contracting and hiring. He was also facing questions about the death of 17-month-old Semaj Crosby, whose family had repeatedly been investigated by DCFS before her body was found under a couch in her Joliet home.

In the same report, Kane wrote that around the same time she was investigating Sheldon, DCFS contended she was overstepping her boundaries. […]

When asked if Kane’s biting report played a role in Rauner replacing her as DCFS’ watchdog, Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold responded, “It did not.” Kane’s term expired this year, after she served for governors from both parties over five administrations.

* I checked in with Ben Wolf, a top attorney with the Illinois ACLU who has been working on the DCFS problem for years. Wolf is quoted in the WBEZ story saying nice things about former IG Kane, but I was curious what he thought about this new turn of events.

“The more we learn about this decision, the more troubled we are,” Wolf said. Kane had a “record of independence and courage,” but the Rauner administration “replaced her with somebody who appears to be an insider,” Wolf said.

“That’s not the kind of background that we would endorse for an inspector general at this very troubled agency.”

The worry, as I take it, is that the Rauner administration will “solve” some of DCFS’ problems by appointing somebody who won’t be as aggressive.

Wolf went on to point out that Kane’s replacement, Meryl Paniak, had been an ethics officer at DCFS. If she was in that post during DCFS’ recent troubles with its former director’s “contracting practices,” he said, “that would only add to our concerns.”

Paniak was Chief Counsel in the Office of Legislative Affairs at DCFS before being upgraded to IG.

However, in her defense, Paniak has an MSW in social work and served as an attorney for the Cook County Office of the Public Guardian starting way back in 1992.

*** UPDATE *** From Kyle Hillman at the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter…

I think the timing, regarding the switch at DCFS, should give everyone pause – however, I would caution people from piling on Meryl Paniak. Our work with Paniak has been nothing but professional throughout the years. She is a strong advocate for the children in DCFS with an educational background that could bring a fresh look at oversight. She is hardly a Bruce Rauner insider and ACLU Illinois would be wise to keep their criticism toward the action of Kane’s removal rather than an unfair character hit against someone who has spent her career working to fight for children in state care. At minimum give the appointee an opportunity to prove her independence and professionalism in the job.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:53 am:

    –Kane’s colleagues in the child welfare system are calling her tenure as “effective,” “fearless,” and “tenacious.”–

    Well, Rauner certainly can’t tolerate that in an election year, can he?( Although four governors before him could).

    Perhaps BTIA(TM) can give a good reason for this move? Or maybe not, since they haven’t offered one yet.

  2. - Honeybear - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:02 am:

    And…..under the rug it goes.
    With our previous children
    Perfidy should have no place
    In DCFS
    Legislative Affairs?
    Maybe this is the type of thing
    Was talking about
    The improper usurpation of
    The political
    Over good government
    And stature.
    I venture to say we won’t have a
    Peep of bad news or error
    Out of DCFS.
    Perfidiously swept away
    Privatization scandal…..gone
    Understaffing scandal….gone
    Policy and procedures scandal…..gone.
    All is well
    Perfidy uber alles

  3. - Keyrock - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:05 am:

    Mr. Wolf is legal director of the Illinois ACLU, and has been suing DCFS for decades. He knows this area better than anyone.

  4. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:12 am:

    When I was at DCFS Denise Kane would modify recommendations when shown a better way to achieve the goal. I viewed her as a plus.

    I would support a rule that Inspector Generals be appointed for ten years and could not be reappointed to watch the same agency. That is not a reflection on Denise Kane but a sense that personnel and perspectives need change.

    Her firing, following the ignominious departure of Director Sheldon, appears to be retaliation. If I were a State Senator, I would not vote to confirm any Rauner appointees unless I knew them personally.

  5. - Sugar Corn - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:22 am:

    IF there were “nothing to see here” Denise Kane could easily confirm - on or off the record - that she decided on her own to leave, and that everything is “all good”

    Instead she is not commenting which suggests she is NOT COOL with Rauner’s decision to replace her.

    I hope in time she can share more details with the public who will likely be on her side.

  6. - The real Rauner - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:47 am:

    I could be wrong, but isn’t the governors curent general counsel the same woman who was the the general counsel to the former DCFS Director that Kane was investigating? Hmmm

  7. - Cassandra - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 12:22 pm:

    Life does go on, and Kane had a very long tenure-back to Edgar, I believe. If her term expired, the guv, any guv, has the right to appoint somebody else, even if she has performed well.

    Politics notwithstanding, Paniak, who apparently has worked at positions of responsibility at both
    the Cook guardian’s office and DCFS, sounds well qualified. Let’s give her a chance.

  8. - JRM - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 12:27 pm:

    As a former youth in care and an advocate for youth and young adults that are currently in state care for the last 10 years I can state with the outmost confidence that Meyral will be an amazing OIG. I have been fighting this Governor for the last 3 years and I could always count on Meryal to be there for youth in care. We applaud Kane’s leadership over the course of the last 25 years but it is time for new leadership.

  9. - Sugar Corn - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 12:31 pm:

    What is Denise Kane’s take on this?

    That is the question inquiring minds want to know.

  10. - Miss Marie - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 2:50 pm:

    “I could be wrong, but isn’t the governors curent general counsel the same woman who was the the general counsel to the former DCFS Director that Kane was investigating?”

    Actually, Meryl Paniak has been there through the revolving door of DCFS Directors. She wasn’t appointed by Sheldon.

    DCFS is barely being held together by duct tape. Thank God for the staff like Meryl who have stayed there despite the craziness of it all to try to offer some stability through the constant change of directors.

    Anything else I’d say was said better by Kyle Hillman, so Ill leave it at that.

  11. - "Friend of a Friend" - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 5:08 pm:

    No more J.Edgar Hoovers anywhere in state government. 24 years is too much and she should have never been in the position that long in the first place.

    If she was so good at her job, why did DCFS have so many problems for so long?

  12. - Miss Marie - Tuesday, Jan 30, 18 @ 12:17 pm:

    “If she was so good at her job, why did DCFS have so many problems for so long?”

    Yup, you hit the nail on the head. One single lawyer is to blame for everything wrong at DCFS. Not budget cuts. Not the revolving door of directors that created so much instability. Not the incompetent Governors who appointed the Directors (some of them you had to wonder how much thought they gave to this). Etc.

    In case it didn’t come through, that was sarcasm.

  13. - Anonymous - Friday, Feb 2, 18 @ 12:11 am:

    “I could be wrong, but isn’t the governors curent general counsel the same woman who was the the general counsel to the former DCFS Director that Kane was investigating? Hmmm”

    Yes, it’s the same woman.

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