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Some good questions for DCFS in wake of Little Village fire

Friday, Aug 31, 2018

* The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board asks several good questions about the horrific fire in Little Village that killed ten children. Here are the state-related questions

What interactions, in detail, did the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services have with the children and their families? One of the mothers, who lost five children, reportedly had been investigated by the department for 21 complaints since 2004. Two of those complaints, including a case in which the mother involved a 16-year-old daughter and a 7-month-old relative in a shoplifting scheme, were confirmed.

What services did DCFS offer to the children and their families? What services were accepted? Who made contact with the family, made the assessments and provided services — DCFS directly or a private contractor?

Charles Golbert, the acting Cook County Public Guardian, told the Sun-Times that the extraordinary number of DCFS complaints about the one family, even if most of the complaints were deemed “unfounded,” should have prompted DCFS to take more aggressive action, including bringing cases to court. How valid is that criticism?

Most of the children were school-age. Did local school districts — either the Chicago Public Schools or in the suburbs — notice anything? Were there red flags? Was there any communication among the schools, DCFS and police agencies about these children and their families?

* I have another question

In a statement, the Department of Children and Family Services said it tries to be as proactive as possible to prevent neglect when investigating struggling families.

Before the fire, the department already had been transitioning to a more holistic approach of evaluating families, which puts more of an emphasis on previous history, instead of reviewing complaints independent from each other, a spokesman said.

“This fire and this tragedy certainly confirms the need to do what we were already moving towards,” said Neil Skene, assistant to the department’s director.

Why did DCFS ever think it was a good idea to review multiple complaints about the same family “independent from each other”?

…Adding… A commenter…

DCFS gets taked over the coals either way. Anonymous@11:23 and Rep. Sosnowski are blasting DCFS for investigating a kid walking her dog alone, and then DCFS gets blasted for not separating this family.

My response…

When you think about it, those two examples you used go right back to the question I asked.

By deliberately not putting cases into a broader context, DCFS sets itself up for failure both ways. Either they go overboard on a silly one-off, or they don’t see the forest for the trees on a family with lots of issues.

* Related…

* DCFS drops bombshell as it investigates Little Village fire deaths: DCFS, in its news release, said: “None of these individual reports by itself rose to the level of our removing children from their parents. Our current direction at DCFS is to be as proactive as possible in dealing with struggling, vulnerable families.” Charles Golbert, the acting Cook County Public Guardian, said the report was shocking. “It’s an extraordinary number of investigations for any one family. And it’s an extraordinary number of investigations that were unfounded,” Golbert said. An unfounded investigation means the agency couldn’t find credible evidence of child abuse or neglect.

* State child services ‘missed opportunities’ to help family before Little Village fire killed 10: Inspector general: “There are patterns where there are histories with families, where the department has been involved, and then it ends up in a death case,” said Meryl Paniak, who was appointed inspector general in January. “There were missed opportunities to do some things differently.”

* Was Enough Done To Protect Children Killed In Little Village Fire?: In the last decade, DCFS has had seven directors. In roughly the same period, a state report found 19 children died for undetermined causes, while their families were under DCFS supervision. Another 10 were killed in their own homes, while families were receiving DCFS services. “It’s not possible to make consistent systemic types of changes at DCFS without consistent, high quality leadership and DCFS has not had that over the last decade,” Golbert said.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

22 Comments
  1. - Anonymous - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 11:23 am:

    Maybe they’re busy trying to crack cases like this https://www.illinoispolicy.org/state-agency-investigates-illinois-mom-for-letting-8-year-old-walk-dog-around-block/


  2. - RNUG - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 11:27 am:

    == Why did DCFS ever think it was a good idea to review multiple complaints about the same family “independent from each other”? ==

    For a long time, it was semi-official policy to keep the families together at almost any cost. If you don’t look at the history, that becomes easier to justify.


  3. - Perrid - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 11:54 am:

    DCFS gets taked over the coals either way. Anonymous@11:23 and Rep. Sosnowski are blasting DCFS for investigating a kid walking her dog alone, and then DCFS gets blasted for not separating this family. In both cases hindsight is 20/20.

    Still, I’d like the answers to all the questions raised myself.


  4. - NoGifts - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 11:54 am:

    I believe the report said there were no working smoke detectors and isn’t that the biggest contributor to the tragedy? I don’t see how blaming DCFS solves that problem. How about better building inspections or outreach to provide smoke detectors?


  5. - Rich Miller - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 11:56 am:

    === I don’t see how blaming DCFS solves that problem===

    Well, duh. Try arguing like a grown adult.

    There can be and almost always are multiple negative causes for an event. This post is focused on one possible cause.


  6. - Rich Miller - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:02 pm:

    ===DCFS gets taked over the coals either way===

    When you think about it, those two examples you used go right back to the question I asked.

    By deliberately not putting cases into a broader context, DCFS sets itself up for failure both ways. Either they go overboard on a silly one-off, or they don’t see the forest for the trees on a family with lots of issues.


  7. - NoGifts - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:03 pm:

    Rich Miller, I think you’re breaking your own rules about civility. It was a fire. What caused the fire at 4 am? Not shoplifting. Maybe bad wiring, or overloaded circuits. How do you escape a fire at 4 am? DCFS is not going to come and evacuate the house. Smoke detectors probably saved more lives than DCFS.
    How’s that for an adult argument.


  8. - Sox Fan - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:23 pm:

    ===What caused the fire at 4 am? Not shoplifting. Maybe bad wiring, or overloaded circuits. ===

    Is it possible that bad wiring, overloaded, circuits, etc. were a result of bad/neglegcful parenting that DCFS might have been able to catch/correct if their policies were different?


  9. - DuPage Saint - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:41 pm:

    Since one of the things that can get a child removed from a home is an “injurious environment “ would not no smoke alarms be an injurious environment ? Not that I want to turn Caseworkers into abuilding inspectors but they could inform parents about need for alarms. I think Chicago Fire Department even Hans them out free but not positive


  10. - Smitty Irving - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:41 pm:

    For the decades I’ve lived in Illinois, DCFS has been under-funded, and except for Jess McDonald, the Director’s Office has been a revolving door. And families were kept together, at all costs, to save costs.


  11. - Union thug - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:46 pm:

    I don’t believe DCFS could have prevented the fire. they are not contractors or building inspectors. However some good questions are raised. Was the policy a bad one? I think we can all agree on a yes. Has it been changed? Yes. But the policy change by itself is not going to fix the issue. As long as we, as a state continually short change the agency in budget and workers. For as long as I have lived in the state they have complained about being short staffed. Caseworkers with twice the case load they should have. Only thing I have seen to do anything was an even worse idea to reward based on case closing not results. I see these workers taking laptops home and on vacation to work so spare me the lazy state worker stck. As long as the agency is short changed bad outcomes will happen.


  12. - Cook County Commoner - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:52 pm:

    I suspect that if DCFS critics spent about a month in the field with a DCFS caseworker, all would become clear. Most folks are clueless as to the nature of the DCFS client base. Then there’s insufficient funding, constant media and political criticism.
    Is more money the answer? No sense even thinking about it because there are more politically powerful priorities.


  13. - Perrid - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:55 pm:

    Yay, my typo of “taked” instead of “raked” gets put into the post itself… how wonderful lol.


  14. - Responsa - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:59 pm:

    10 years, 7 directors. Regardless of the reasons and causes for this level of turnover at the highest level of the agency, it’s pretty clear that this turnover turmoil alone had to be a major contributor to the agency’s internal miscommunication and dysfunction.


  15. - Anon - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 12:59 pm:

    DCFS isn’t intended to criminalize being poor.

    If y’all want better services from DCFS, y’all need to start rooting for increasing taxes.

    And then maybe firing every member of management in the agency, or at least every SPSA


  16. - Someone else - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 1:04 pm:

    DCFS has to check for smoke detectors with intact family cases. See: https://www2.illinois.gov/dcfs/aboutus/notices/Documents/cfs_2025_home_safety_checklist_for_intact_family_and_permanency_workers.pdf


  17. - Interested - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 1:20 pm:

    Clearly there were issues with these families. A parent who leaves a 3 month old at a “sleep over party” - with no adults present, has clearly been making very bad choices over a period of time. DCFS is absolutely culpable here.


  18. - Cubs in '16 - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 1:26 pm:

    As several commenters have alluded to, field staff want to make a difference. Management wants to avoid bad press, shortchange the agency of resources, and keep families intact at all costs and sometimes at the expense of children’s safety. Until those two philosophies are reconciled, we’ll continue reading about terrible tragedies such as this.


  19. - Cassandra - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 1:32 pm:

    It is my understanding that a DCFS investigator would have a hard time avoiding a family’s history
    since hotline reports are coded so as to call attention to same and backup history is readily available on the computer, not to mention service history. I question the assertion that staff do not pay attention to history and I would bet that supervisors also review same in supervision.

    I don’t know what happened with the DCFS case but it does seem that a working smoke detector wired into the electric system (so it continues to operate when the battery runs out) might have prevented this awful tragedy. Fire department personnel said the kids had a clear path out of
    the building but were overcome by smoke. Some of the kids were old enough to know how to evacuate had they had enough warning.


  20. - Amalia - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 1:44 pm:

    did the family own the building? or are other building owners at fault for not keeping up the property? also, inspections?


  21. - JoanP - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 1:47 pm:

    @Sox Fan -

    Bad wiring, overloaded circuits, etc. are more likely the fault of the landlord who has been cited multiple times in the past, and has just been cited with over 40 violations of the housing code. Among them? Lack of functioning smoke detectors and a smoke detector without a battery.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-little-village-fire-building-citations-20180831-story.html

    Renters shouldn’t have to do the job of city inspectors. They have a right to expect the landlord to be in compliance with pretty basic requirements.


  22. - Sox Fan - Friday, Aug 31, 18 @ 2:48 pm:

    Fair point JoanP.

    My only point/suggestion was that it’s possible that if DCFS’s policies/procedures were different, they may have realized that these kids were not in a suitable environment. I actually didn’t mean to come across as placing the blame on DCFS. Seems like there’s a lot of blame to go around.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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