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Our sorry state

Thursday, May 9, 2019

* A scary and disgusting number…

* 112 dead during this fiscal year so far

DCFS inspector general Meryl Paniak on Wednesday identified four starting points for making improvements in protecting children in cases the agency is investigating.

They are safety assessments, training, supervision and manageable caseloads, Paniak told lawmakers in the House Adoptions and Child Welfare Committee.

Supervision is “key,” she said, but it will require updated, recurring training.

“We need to look into the complex need of the families,” Paniak said. “We need to start by asking staff what they need to do their job.”

She said there are 60 job vacancies in DCFS child protection statewide, and 400 of the 1,200 active cases have gone more than 90 days without agency intervention.

* But that’s about average, which is maddening

An average of 100 children die each year despite Illinois Department of Children and Family Services involvement with their families, even after pledges to make improvements in the aftermath of tragedies.

“This consistent number of child deaths shows that the State of Illinois is failing to improve and ensure the protection of children, even when it knows they are at risk,” Meryl Paniak, the acting inspector general of DCFS, wrote last week to state officials. […]

agency needs increased staffing to take care of Illinois’ most vulnerable kids. Now, the request for the budget year that starts in July includes the largest increase the agency has seen in 20 years and a plan to add 126 employees.

Marc Smith, DCFS’ new director, said it will give investigators smaller caseloads and better oversight with more supervisors. […]

But some lawmakers and child advocates think the state should be investing in the foster care and adoption systems. They recently questioned caseworkers’ judgments to keep children like Liam, Kane, Matthew and, most recently, AJ Freund with their parents when there were multiple reports of abuse in some cases.

* More

Two lawmakers told DCFS officials that community providers have told them they’re reluctant in many instances to report to the agency; they fear it could actually be more dangerous for the child.

Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, said providers are concerned about the chaos in the department, including the rotation of case managers and falsifying of records.

“When people report and don’t see action being taken, it undermines the idea that there is value in reporting,” she said. “We need to work on that culture of trust and believability.”

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said communities do not think DCFS is helping families.

“Many of them think that DCFS (is) killing our kids,” she said. “That is a problem. That has to change.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 9:51 am:

    It would be helpful if those in the know would clear their throats and scream the bottom line as to what would improve the situation.

    Is it more staff, more training, more laws, more temporary care and what’s the ballpark cost?

    Give it to us straight, and put the ball in the court of the the elected reps. and those who put them there. If nothing is done, then it’s on us, and we can dispense with the fiction that as a society that we really give a hoot.

    These cycles of stories, and hearings, and weeping editorials have gone on as long as I can remember. They go away for a while, and then come back again when another high-profile death occurs.

    Enough already — what will it take? Lay down a marker to aspire to.

  2. - Honeybear - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 9:51 am:

    This will be Pritzkers Quincy Veterans Home

  3. - don the legend - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 9:55 am:

    Honeybear, I am an optimist and would change your “will” to a “could”. Thanks.

  4. - Perrid - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 10:03 am:

    Honeybear, no. That was a specific case where the state was the caretaker, knew the people in their care were in danger and decided not to tell anyone of the danger.

    If youth in care/wards of the state start dying while in group homes, and the administration tries to cover it up, THEN it will be the Quincy Veterans Home. That’s not what has happened, to my knowledge.

    And in my opinion, which obviously could be wrong, saying “DCFS (is) killing our kids” is downright irresponsible. The parents are killing the kids. The parents are fooling DCFS into thinking they can be adequate parents, and killing the kids. Yes, DCFS should get better at determining which parents are trying to fool them, which parents are a danger to kids. That is the mandate and the goal, and we should never stop trying to get better at it. But DCFS is NOT killing the kids and saying so makes me mad.

  5. - Give Me A Break - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 10:15 am:

    At what point is a state’s attorney going to start looking at some front line DCFS staff and their actions?

    I know they are are overworked but there is also a matter of caseworkers leaving kids in situations any adult would say is beyond ill advised.

  6. - A guy - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 10:28 am:

    HB is right. Anyone who “rationalizes” is wrong. People aren’t sitting around drawing distinctions and splitting hairs on this.

    Like Quincy, this needs to be fixed NOW. As terrible as Quincy was (and it was), the sympathetic response to children is far more disturbing.

  7. - Perrid - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 10:34 am:

    A guy, it’s not splitting hairs. In Quincy the State KNEW there was an epidemic and not only chose to keep medically vulnerable people in close proximity to it, they decided to hide the danger from the public. Compare that to believing a home is safe, because a parent lies and says it is, and then that parent kills a child. The state being fooled into thinking there is no danger is different from knowing there is danger and hiding it. The difference in responsibility is huge.

  8. - JS Mill - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 10:37 am:

    If this is ‘like Quincy” where is the cover up? Seems like everything is getting a strong does of daylight.

    Step one to solving a problem is identifying the problem.

    Word is right, the dog and pony show has been endless. Lay down a marker and take action.

  9. - Functioning furnace - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 10:57 am:

    “Like Quincy, this needs to be fixed NOW.”

    How? How does the DCFS worker know the parents who had a functioning furnace would still let their toddler freeze to death? Are we going to hire psychics now?

  10. - Foster parent - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 11:07 am:

    Wordslinger is right, people in the know need to speak up. From my personal experience, regaining custody of children is way too simple, and often requires little more than completing a service plan consisting of attending parenting classes, domestic violence classes, or in some cases drug rehab. (This scenario seems to be essentially what AJ’s mother completed and was then subsequently approved to regain custody, despite her DCFS dealings with her older child.)

    If you visit an Illinois foster parent group on Facebook you will find many outstanding caregivers terrified for the safety of their foster kids because return-to-home is imminent despite previous episodes of abuse, neglect, drug abuse, etc. Reunification is wonderful, but the standard needs to be much higher than the parent(s) having completed a relatively simplistic service plan consisting of classes and a bare minimum compliance with visits.

    For change to occur, I believe Illinois law needs to encourage those with professional experience i.e. judges, public guardians, and caseworkers to use more commonsense discretion before reunification. I have literally heard a judge and a public guardian apologize for reunification saying their hands are tied, despite receiving repeated dire warnings from DCFS caseworkers who typically know the home dynamic very well.

  11. - Thomas Paine - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 11:37 am:

    I would not call it an average year.

    DCFS is at 112 deaths with two months left to go.

    They are on pace for 130 deaths this year.

    That is far above average.

  12. - A guy - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 11:52 am:

    ==Maybe the most disturbing fact to come out of the DCFS hearing is that the OIG announced they had 9 more child deaths (who had previous contact with DCFS) in the last 9 days. Where is the urgency?==

    And..112 deaths this fiscal year?

    I’m not as close to this as some, and I have been seeing these DCFS posts regularly, but those numbers are pretty astounding.

    I’m not sure how productive it is to compare crises where people, be they older veterans or young children, are dying.

    I’m still with HB on this. We can dissect all day long how Quincy or DCFS got here, but Governors are where the buck stops on both.

  13. - Charlie Brown - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    Illinois is the legal parent of kids in foster care.

    When biological parents put their children in harm’s way, through either action or inaction, we hold the parents responsible.

    When Illinois puts children in harms, whether through action or inaction, we should hold ourselves responsible.

    “The parents abused the kid, the governor didn’t” is the wrong answer.

    If a parent leaves their child with a babysitter that is a registered sex offender or they know id abusive or negligent, that parent is going to be help accountable by the courts.

  14. - Cindy - Thursday, May 9, 19 @ 9:05 pm:

    1. All hotline reports are diverted to 911.
    2.911 makes call-Kid safe? Arrests needed? Court mandated services?
    3.DCFS comes in if services to family are needed, Foster Care, Adoption.
    4.Adoption and foster parents receive sufficient reimbursement for these kiddos.
    5. They are vetted and have terms to make child’s stay in foster care, stable, loving caring..
    6. Parents with indicated reports can not adopt nor foster.
    7. Courts are required to be accountable for not approving PC that led to further child abuse/neglect.
    8. Workers receive no more then 3 cases a week in order to sufficiently investigate.
    9. Workers get paid for working all OT.
    10. Workers get self care benefits including in house counseling, increased vacation time.
    11. Every child that has injury that is alleged from abuse/neglect is examined by DCFS specialist doctors in house within 24 hours.
    12. All professionals in community that do not release documents to DCFS within 24 hours regarding open case are fined.
    13. DCFS workers regularly complete questionaires regarding how to better complete jobs.
    14. No evidence of abuse/neglect at intial screening by police-case closed-least amount of invasion to people’s lives.

  15. - Indicated - Friday, May 10, 19 @ 7:41 am:

    6. Parents with indicated reports can not adopt nor foster.

    That it really unfair. Indication is only an accusation. What about the rights of the accused? It’s not like there is a trial.

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