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DCFS attempt to address a big problem could be creating more problems

Friday, Jul 19, 2019

* Ana Espinosa

The previous acting director, Beverly “BJ” Walker, signed a six-month, $5.1 million contract on her final day as DCFS director.

The contract created the Aunt Martha’s interim care center, which is a short-term living arrangement for children coming out of psychiatric hospitals. […]

But according to [Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert], there is no research to support the interim care center (ICC) that DCFS is paying $5 million for.

“It’s something DCFS made up,” Golbert said. […]

Edwin C. Yohnka, director of communications and public policy of ACLU of Illinois, said, “We were not consulted by the leadership of DCFS as they moved forward with a plan for an ICC at Aunt Martha’s until months after the contract was agreed and the process was well underway. When we became aware of this proposal, we raised our concerns – concerns confirmed by one of the court-appointed experts.”

Golbert said DCFS created the ICC to help the statistic of kids in locked hospitals but as a result, created more problems.

“And one of the ICCs used to be shelter space and so, they took away the shelter space. So now you also have a shortage of shelter space and as a result, now you also have children sleeping in offices.”

The current DCFS director, Marc Smith, was with Aunt Martha’s for 10 years before being picked by Gov. Pritzker to direct DCFS.

* More

Golbert said there is no evidence to prove Interim Care Centers are a good placement for children.

“If you scour the social sciences literature looking for references to an Interim Care Center. If you scour social work literature, if you scour other models in other parts of the country, you will not find anything called an Interim Care Center,” Golbert said.

Although the ICC contract was just signed in February 2019, Pennington said they’ve been doing this integrated care for more than a year and have seen results.

“We have seen about a 30% reduction in hospitalizations. Once they are admitted to the ICC, we see compliance with medication. We see success with a reduction in acts of physical aggression and then, we have seen them transition on to more permanent placements,” Pennington said.

The Interim Care Center is even being debated in a court case between the American Civil Liberties Union and DCFS.

We got a copy of the transcripts and it shows that during the last hearing, an attorney with the ACLU said, “This isn’t a known treatment method for people coming out of psych hospitalization. This is a made up thing and it was operating as a shelter.”

* DCFS has been under extreme pressure to reduce psychiatric hospitalizations. Kids are sent there and can’t get out because the state can’t find foster homes or other placements

According to the public guardian, at this exact moment, there are Illinois children inside locked psych hospitals even though they don’t have to be there simply because DCFS doesn’t have a place to put them.

“There’s not a whole lot that says to a kid you don’t care more than being forced to stay in psychiatric hospital for weeks and months after you’re ready to go because your guardian doesn’t have anywhere to put you,” Golbert said. […]

In a letter to the governor written in May, Golbert said from 2015 to 2017, it cost taxpayers $9.4 million to house children “Beyond Medical Necessity.”

“It’s a multi-million-dollar waste of money while we are trampling on these kids rights and traumatizing them,” Golbert said.

The letter to the governor also said in that two-year span, the children spent collectively 27,000 days in the hospital longer than they needed to.

So, what appears to be happening is DCFS came up with a way to get kids out of psych hospitals, but the method is unprecedented and watchdogs are alarmed.

* Back to the shelter space shortage issue mentioned above

Newly obtained pictures show a problem the Cook County public guardian fears is happening too often: Kids sleeping on the floor of a state office building.

The kids were in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services at the time [2018]. […]

DCFS’ own count shows a dwindling number of emergency shelter space available. Five years ago there were 159 beds. Now, the number is down to just 43 statewide.

“The kids I’m aware of sleeping in offices it’s because the shelter was full, no beds available,” Golbert said.

A DCFS spokesperson insists the state office building isn’t being used as a makeshift shelter.

The agency released a statement that reads:

    Many DCFS offices across the state must be prepared to protect infants, children and youth who will often arrive exhausted and in need of clothing, food, diapers, formula and other necessities. This is not a substitute for shelter. DCFS is working in partnership with providers to secure additional shelter options for those in need.

The only word that comes to mind is Kafkaesque.

* Related…

* Illinois Lawmakers Demand Child Welfare Officials Better Serve Spanish-Speaking Families: State officials now say they want to increase bilingual hiring and the recruitment of Spanish-speaking foster families.

* DCFS Placed Boy in Foster Home With Convicted Sex Offender Who Repeatedly Abused Him: The public guardian claims in the suit that DCFS did not perform an investigation into the man’s background or criminal history, as required by law

* 2,200 Illinois DCFS staffers to undergo mandatory training

* After DCFS caseworker killed on the job, her husband works for change at the troubled agency: His idea is to create a numbered rating system that’s clean and easy for all to understand. Cases with a 1 or 2 would be considered less threatening. “If it was a 3,4,5 before they moved on that case they would need a police officer,” he said. He also wants all cases called into the hotline to begin with a high-risk status, requiring a police escort for several visits until the environment inside is determined to be safe enough for a DCFS investigator to go there alone. As for the DCFS union agreement, Don Knight wants the safety clauses for workers enforced. He claims they’re currently ignored.

* IL DCFS employee discharged following romantic relationship during investigation

* DCFS Acting Director Marc Smith reveals plan to turn troubled child welfare agency around: “One of the ways we’re trying to address that is we review a tremendous amount of our cases,” Smith told the I-Team. “One of the areas we look at, cases that have reached a level of tragedy or concern. And then we pull those cases and the management team looks at each individual case. We do it to see what we can learn, if there were mistakes made, if there were things we should have done better.”

* Change underway for Illinois DCFS after controversial children’s deaths: While Smith is committed to staying, DCFS caseworkers are another story. Turnover is high, largely because the pay is low. “I’ve also seen workers that are overwhelmed, don’t really want to dig deeper, sometimes folks are really unable to make a good assessment if they are not able to handle the immense work load that they are under or maybe not enough training to understand the dynamics of abuse and how that may affect family,” Rivette said.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

8 Comments
  1. - Honeybear - Friday, Jul 19, 19 @ 1:53 pm:

    “Turnover is high, largely because the pay is low.”

    Just going to leave this right there.


  2. - Charlie Brown - Friday, Jul 19, 19 @ 2:22 pm:

    @Honeybear

    DCFS pay is not low. The problem is the work conditions, not the salary.

    There is not enough money in the world to compensate someone for caseloads double what is allowed under BH.

    The contract with Aunt Martha’s should probably be revoked, but we have this apparent conflict of interest now.


  3. - Proud Papa Bear - Friday, Jul 19, 19 @ 2:37 pm:

    Training is a start, but there needs to be accountability.
    I can’t say how many times I’ve gone through a training (at my former social service agancy), only to hear co-workers mock it in the parking lot afterwards.
    Glad to see they’re addressing LGBTQ+ clients in their trainings.


  4. - Fed up with the lies - Friday, Jul 19, 19 @ 3:07 pm:

    The political posturing of Golbert is the real problem. Public service is not looking for opportunities to get your name in the paper. He sounds most ridiculous on the point that it shouldn’t be done because it hasn’t been done! Steve Jobs is somewhere turning over in his grave! Not to mention this guy says DCFS needs more bed but nothing innovative..

    He who protest so much should look at their operation to deal with why he opposes 90% of Illinois children achieving permanent homes. His actions are criminal and have lead to the problem!


  5. - Charlie Brown - Friday, Jul 19, 19 @ 3:31 pm:

    @Fed Up -

    The contract looks hinky. Let’s start there. It was not competitively bid. It’s not evidence-based. And Directors spending $5.1M on their last day on the job and committing the agency to a six-month course of action raises questions.

    You say it is a great program. Maybe.

    What are the outcome measures in the contract, and where is the data?


  6. - revvedup - Friday, Jul 19, 19 @ 3:33 pm:

    3 State agencies get the “FAIL” stamp this Cap Fax Day. DCFS has undergone so many reorganizations, blue-ribbon this and that, consultants, and court cases that by now you’d think……*sigh*. Nope.


  7. - Last Bull Moose - Friday, Jul 19, 19 @ 3:46 pm:

    The hard fact is that DCFS does not have enough good foster parents. This is particularly true for kids leaving psych wards.

    Their interim care approach shows they are at least trying to address the problem. A step down facility seems better than leaving them in the hospital.

    The number of emergency beds needs to be increased. 43 beds statewide is ridiculous. I have trouble believing it is correct.


  8. - Charlie Brown - Friday, Jul 19, 19 @ 4:34 pm:

    Bull Moose:

    They could have spent $10.2 M a year more on foster care instead, right?

    That would have made sense, but they didn’t. Why?

    Well, apparently Aunt Martha’s had space they thought they did not need for shelter beds. If those beds are not full, they are not generating revenue for the provider.

    Under the contract Aunt Martha’s signed with BJ Walker on her last day in office, Aunt Martha’s not only makes sure those beds have heads in them, it probably is billing the state at a much higher rate.

    All this was happening while a senior staffer at Aunt Martha’s was interviewing to be DCFS director, presumably with his CEO’s backing.

    Its almost as if they were in a rush to get the contract signed so it wouldnt look like a conflict of interest once Smith took over.

    Almost.

    It would have been kinda brilliant if we didnt have kids sleeping in offices now.


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