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Pritzker vows again to straighten out the DCFS mess

Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020

* Gov. Pritzker set aside about ten minutes for interviews with some political reporters last week. I’ll have more on my interview for subscribers tomorrow. Hannah Meisel decided to focus on DCFS

In an interview with The Daily Line last week, Pritzker touted $128 million in new granted to DCFS in the current year’s budget, along with efforts to hire more frontline agency workers to both investigate claims of abuse and neglect and at the agency’s so-called “front door” — its overworked hotline.

But some changes are slower than others. Pritzker said thousands of DCFS employees are being retrained on his watch.

“Don’t think that’s a small thing,” Pritzker said. “That takes time and effort and expense and we’re doing all of that. We’ve replaced personnel. We put in new policies and procedures. And, very importantly, we have outside advisors and monitors that are helping us to figure out what more needs to be done…Because this is maybe the important thing that government does it protect the most vulnerable people, the defenseless people in our society and the kids who are in the DCFS system, as well as the many who don’t get identified to DCFS.”

The governor also pointed to an uptick in reports to DCFS as evidence the agency is beginning to turn around. Agency officials told The Daily Line that DCFS investigated 5,000 more claims of abuse and neglect in the 2019 fiscal year as compared with 2018.

Pritzker acknowledged the dismal numbers and conclusions published in DCFS Inspector General Meryl Paniak’s annual report earlier this month, in which Paniak and her staff found that 123 children died in the 2019 fiscal year even after DCFS had prior contact with the child or families. Additionally, Paniak confirmed to The Daily Line last week that in the first half of the 2020 fiscal year, 56 children DCFS had prior contact with had died.

“We have a lot to work on at DCFS itself,” Pritzker said. “Some of it is what was elevated in the OEIG report, which was very important. These are challenges DCFS has had for years…It is the hollowing out of government over a number of years prior to my becoming governor that has led to the tragedies that we’re now seeing.”

* More on the DCFS angle from Shia Kapos’ interview

It’s no surprise Pritzker is pivoting toward efforts to improve the lives of children. In the private sector, he supported education at every level.

During his first year in Springfield, the governor said worrying about children under the care of the embattled Department of Children and Family Services is what kept him up at night. “They deserve better,” he said. A recent report notes 123 children who had contact with the department in 2019 had died.

* Matt Hopf at the Quincy Herald-Whig

An inspector general’s investigation into Illinois’ child welfare agency after the October 2018 deaths of two Quincy children found multiple lapses in the department’s ongoing investigation with the family that started more than six months before the blaze.

This includes an investigator with the Department of Children and Family Services not going inside the home at 611 N. Eighth for a required visual inspection and multiple failures in following up in the case.

After the Oct. 12, 2018, fire that killed Toby Brewer, 8, and Emma Kramer, 5, fire officials found extension cords hand-spliced together with masking tape, including one placed under a mattress, which were later determined to be the cause of the fire.

The family was supposed to vacate the home in September 2018 and was squatting there. There was no electricity or other utilities to the home, and the extension cords were used to receive electricity from a neighboring home.

One of the family’s two other children later told fire investigators that the cords would “snap and pop and smoke” and that they would hold the cords over their heads until the popping stopped.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

10 Comments »
  1. - phenom_Anon - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 10:53 am:

    We all complain about paying taxes and government not spending it wisely, etc. But this is one of those situations where I think we all, at least those with a heart, have to just feel like, if more money is needed for staffing etc, just take more of my money and get this under control. If I thought the grad tax would bring in enough money to fix this, then I’d happily vote for it.


  2. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 11:07 am:

    The Governor is figuratively and literally cleaning the Aegean Stables. Doesn’t the first federal court order / consent decree for DCFS (1978?) cover problems that started under the Walker Administration? Earlier?


  3. - FosterKidLogic - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 11:12 am:

    When I was in the foster care system, I was told that people cared about me. However, their actions did not speak to that. Although I believe this Governor cares about abused and neglected kids, he has put in place a Director and an Administration that is only concerned with image and are to busy fighting with themselves than caring about the kids. We need a Director who will meet with the community on regular bases, reach out to minority communities who have been hurt by racial biases and start building the trust back, increase our number over foster homes across Illinois, engage with current and former youth in care, and engage with the business communities to get additional funding. Illinois was torn apart of AJ; however, kids are still dying every day. Those with a DCFS history and those without any involvement. Leadership is key. Let’s change the system for all of Illinois. It’s going to be tough and very messy, but it needs to be done.


  4. - Kratt MacGregor - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 11:14 am:

    In 2015, DCFS received 14,338 hotline calls involving families they had prior contact with.

    By 2018, that number was 33,925.

    In 2019, that number was 43,647. An increase of almost 10K.

    Suggesting 5000 more calls is better when the increase in calls all involve families you have had prior contact with?

    Someone help me because I don’t get it.

    BTW, they are on-pace for 44,000 for 2020.


  5. - Froganon - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 1:08 pm:

    - phenom_Anon - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 10:53 am:

    We all complain about paying taxes and government not spending it wisely, etc….If I thought the grad tax would bring in enough money to fix this, then I’d happily vote for it.

    There is no DCFS overhaul/fix without additional funding. If not through the grad income tax, how will Illinois raise that funding? Please share the details of your perfect funding plan wherein everyone is completely satisfied that every tax dollar is perfectly spent.


  6. - All This - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 3:13 pm:

    Cue to the usual suspects decrying “free stuff” and government spending.


  7. - RNUG - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 3:31 pm:

    My views on DCFS are well documented.

    Just . Fix . It .


  8. - Cassandra - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 4:33 pm:

    Well, it’s clear that some entity should have been spending for safe, appropriate housing for the family in Quincy whose children died in a far. Sounds like a family with several children. How did they come to be living in a utility-free structure they weren’t supposed to be in. Is there a lack of affordable housing in Quincy. And if so, which of our many government entities is responsible for ensuring that it is provided quickly and without undue red tape.


  9. - Cassandra - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 4:34 pm:

    Oops. “in a fire.”


  10. - Responsa - Tuesday, Jan 14, 20 @ 9:57 pm:

    Is it possible for a curious journalist to do a FOIA request in order to see what the new improved ” DCFS retraining” encompasses and looks like for the thousands of employees being retrained?


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