* Background is here if you need it. Gov. JB Pritzker was asked today at an unrelated event about the apparent murder of 2-year-old Ja’hir Gibbons by her mother’s boyfriend. The child was supposed to be under the protection of DCFS…
First, let me say that this is a tragedy. A tragedy that could be prevented. But, as you have seen, when you don’t invest in caseworkers, when you don’t invest in reducing the case load, when you don’t invest in the social services that are so necessary for the families, and you’re not recruiting foster parents enough, then you’ve got a system that’s overloaded and where children can fall through the cracks.
Now, the additional issue here is that there’s an individual and an agency that have made gross mistakes. And the investigation that’s ongoing now is intended to make transparent what those challenges were and how we should address them.
In terms of how I am going forward, not just on this case and on the previous case that were a result of this underfunding and the terrible condition that the state agencies have been left in, hollowed out, is I’ve tried to put back into the budget in the coming year 126 new DCFS case workers, so that we can reduce the case backlog and we can make sure we’ve got fewer cases being handled by any individual in DCFS.
And then we’ve got to look into the agencies that are being handed cases to follow to make sure that there’s oversight and that we don’t have contracts with agencies that are not following through on their responsibilities.
The safety and security of children under the care of the state of Illinois is paramount to me. These are the most at-risk of the most at-risk kids. The kids who need us to watch everything for them, to keep them safe. And that’s going to be my responsibility, that is what my responsibility is today.
I spent 20 years, more than that now, in early childhood focused on at-risk kids. And I just feel that the state for too many years, with 12 agency heads over 10 years, the turnover has been terrible. And add to that the underfunding, the lack of resources that came from two years of a budget crisis and two more budgets that really didn’t put it back. We have got to make a big change in the way state government treats our children. And it’s not just those kids who need foster care and who need to be watched by DCFS, but also in everything that effects the families. Job availability, skills training, the social services that they need. And that’s what I’m focused on.
* Pritzker was then asked how these ongoing DCFS tragedies made him feel as a father, or as a person…
I’m outraged. I’m outraged first that the children have this situation where they have no parent who can responsibly care for them. Then the situation of they’re left in the care of the state of Illinois and for years, neglected.
And here we have people who are responsible being irresponsible. Maybe even filing false reports.
These children are our children, they are our state’s children. And we should be standing up for them like we do for our own children.
He talks a very good talk. Better than any governor I’ve ever covered when it comes to this particular topic. But talking is just… talk. We’ll see how he governs as the months go by.
* Back to Pritzker…
I have met with caseworkers just in the last couple of weeks. They are inundated. They have got cases that they almost can’t manage. They are doing the very best that they can. The people that I spoke with are working overtime, they’re doing everything that they can with fewer resources than ever before.
* He said other governors tell him this is the most challenging thing that governors do and said the private agency that handled Ja’hir Gibbons’ case is now “under review”…
Agencies that are not fulfilling on their responsibility, on their contractual responsibility, on their moral responsibility, on their legal responsibility will not get contracts with DCFS going forward. […]
It is intolerable to me that someone is able to file a false report, is able to change a report after they’ve already reported on a situation to go back and try and change it, to cover their tracks. And that’s something that we’ve got to go back and look at all of the files to make sure we’re finding where anybody has ever done that… We have got to make changes in the way we oversee these agencies, these outside agencies.
* Meanwhile, DCFS issued a timeline about its own involvement in the case. Click here for that.