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New DCFS audit “worse than disaster” as agency director hit with 10th contempt of court citation

Friday, May 13, 2022

* Background is here if you need it. CBS on the new auditor general’s report

Home safety checklists? DCFS was unable to provide them in 98 percent of cases.

Data on kids being properly immunized? DCFS data was “unreliable”. […]

Huge chunks of the state’s most vulnerable kids are missing physicals, vision tests, hearing screenings, and 88 percent missing at least one dental exam. […]

21 percent of taxpayer-funded DCFS positions remain vacant.

* WGEM

For aftercare services, more than half of the randomly selected cases did not have a record of receiving at least six months of services. Those services were also not updated to reflect new law.

“Because DCFS did not ensure that families are receiving the recommended services for the required duration of time, a successful family reunification is less likely,” the audit reads. […]

The audit also shed some light on the staffing vacancies within the department. There’s a 20% vacancy in budget-funded positions overall, with the greatest level of open positions in areas like Rockford (43% vacant) and southern Cook County (26% vacant).

* Tribune

The agency also failed more than half the time to properly document that support services were provided for the requisite six months after children were reunited with their families, the report said.

The audit also found that the agency’s records system was unable to track or identify cases that fell under a recent state law governing how DCFS deals with calls from legally mandated reporters, such as teachers.

In those cases, when the information provided doesn’t trigger a full-blown abuse or neglect investigation but the family has had previous involvement with the child welfare system, the agency is supposed to refer the family to the appropriate services. If the family refuses to cooperate, then the law requires DCFS to launch an investigation.

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, whose office represents more than 7,000 children involved in the child welfare system, said he was ”expecting disaster (from the audit), and it’s even worse than disaster.” Golbert earlier this year told the Tribune the agency is “is in the worst shape it’s been in 30 years.”

* WICS

State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, sponsored the bill that requires more home safety checks.

In a statement Rep. Scherer said:

    “After thoroughly reviewing the DCFS audit and speaking to the auditor general at length, I am at a complete loss for words. I am deeply concerned about the well-being of Illinois youth, and I will continue to work in their best interest.”

* Why this audit was done and why this story is so important

Ta’Naja Barnes was two years old when she was found wrapped in a urine-soaked blanket amid rodent droppings, garbage and rotting food.

The temperatures dipped to 45 degrees inside the Decatur home on Feb. 11, 2019, the day Ta’Naja was found. Medical personnel couldn’t get a temperature reading from Ta’Naja. She was too cold.

An autopsy revealed the former Department of Children and Family Services ward died from neglect, malnutrition and hypothermia.

DCFS had been involved with Ta’Naja and her family for more than half of her life after allegations of abuse and neglect. Ta’Naja had already spent two stints in foster care before her case was closed and she was returned to live with her mother six months before her death.

Ta’Naja’s death led to a law named in her honor that requires DCFS to complete home safety checks before and after a child is returned to their parents and to provide aftercare to the child and their family for at least six months after their return home.

Nearly a year after the law’s passage, a state auditor found that DCFS has yet to implement it.

* Meanwhile

A tenth contempt of court order has been issued against Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith.

The contempt orders all stem from the department’s ongoing failures to place youth properly, such that they end up stuck in in psychiatric facilities long after they are ready to be released. […]

This tenth contempt of court order involves a young girl who entered DCFS care more than a year ago. She has spent most of her time in inappropriate placements instead of in a residential treatment center getting the care she needs.

During court, it was said the little girl suffered sexual abuse when she was as young as 8 years old and the system failed to treat her underlying issues related to her trauma.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

20 Comments »
  1. - Back to the Future - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 10:55 am:

    Like his failure to respond to the problems at a Veteran’s Home, Governor “Stuff Happens” strikes again.
    Not sure how many contempt citations are necessary to have our judicial system step up, take a stronger oversight role and protect these children.
    It is clear that the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch of government are either not sufficiently interested in protecting these children or are simply incompetent- - or both.


  2. - don the legend - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:06 am:

    Can’t wait for the all the cut taxes, reduce government spending, cut bloated pension GOPers to start screaming that they are the party of families and that they are the party that can protect our children.

    If this crisis can’t get Republicans and Democrats to stand side by side and commit to us that DCFS will be properly staffed and adequately funded then nothing will.

    Still, I won’t be holding my breath.


  3. - The Dude Abides - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:11 am:

    You might think that they are plenty of qualified people available to fill these jobs but that’s not the case. It’s not just filling state job openings, it’s everywhere. DCFS has lost a lot of experienced workers in the last ten years, I knew this day was coming but the situation is even worse than I thought it would be. As far as the Governor is concerned, he will be re-elected in the Fall.


  4. - Birds on the Bat - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:24 am:

    Between this and LaSalle, how does JB sleep at night? Sickening.


  5. - Ducky LaMoore - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:26 am:

    Bills won’t fix this. They need staff, and lots of it. I know this wouldn’t be very popular, but the state needs to reduce the qualifications to be a caseworker. There are plenty of people out there, without a bachelor’s degree, that would make competent workers.


  6. - Excitable Boy - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:32 am:

    - There are plenty of people out there, without a bachelor’s degree, that would make competent workers. -

    Highly agree. And raise the salaries while you’re at it. Shameful.


  7. - The Hills60010 - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:37 am:

    -21 percent of taxpayer-funded DCFS positions remain vacant-

    Perhaps it’s time to make an appeal to concerned, but degreed, able to be trained persons to act as lay Guardians Ad Litems to do some of these routine home visits and check to see if these “overwhelmed” or “unfit” breeders/care guardians are keeping medical/dental appointments and keeping to other ordered care plans.

    These children need to be cherished and honored outside the womb. I am still watching and waiting for the in the womb “it’s alive” idolatry crew to be in the streets protesting for change when born vulnerable children are allowed to be beaten and starved.

    Take some of that budgeted money and set up a volunteer citizens’ corp.


  8. - Saddened - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:40 am:

    How do you attract applicants to DCFS when they see stories like this? Come work at a failing agency where you’ll be tasked with the impossible and potentially be thrown under the bus when the next scandal comes along. No thank you.


  9. - Give Us Barabbas - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:48 am:

    If I was advising JB I’d suggest he temporarily move his office into DCFS headquarters to spend mornings or afternoons on the scene. Every day, until things are on track again. He should be meeting with the House and Senate leadership on this crisis weekly, to move the resources needed in a timely manner. DCFS, DVA and IDES can not be left on auto pilot. These were broken agencies he inherited, sure, but it’s been three years. His legacy is jeopardized by not doing more in these three agencies. I don’t know if he got incompetent political hack people in the management or what, and I’m a JB fanboy, but I’m really out of patience about these three agencies and their dumpster fire management.


  10. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:54 am:

    ===How do you attract applicants to DCFS when they see stories like this? Come work at a failing agency where you’ll be tasked with the impossible and potentially be thrown under the bus when the next scandal comes along. No thank you.===

    This. You could say the same about so many agencies and departments. I’m no expert in this field, but I know from experience there are no magic solutions that are going to solve DCFS’s problems.


  11. - Lincoln Lad - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 11:56 am:

    I believe that JB has done a good job in addressing fiscal issues for the State. That would be tough to argue with. But operationally, in running the day to day business of the State, he has done a horrible job. Sure the pandemic has played a role, but not to the degree that the day to day operational activities should be as bad as they clearly are. There is no strength in the operating team… not in the Deputy Governors… and not in the agency leadership. It’s sad…


  12. - Socially DIstant watcher - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 12:27 pm:

    DCFS needs an overhaul, including more money, more staff, new tech. Which will have a very big fiscal note.


  13. - RNUG - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 1:02 pm:

    And it just gets worse and worse …


  14. - Just Another Anon - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 1:11 pm:

    @the Hills
    >watching and waiting for the in the womb “it’s alive” idolatry crew to be in the streets protesting for change when born vulnerable children are allowed to be beaten and starved.

    Check out Roar for AJ. They literally held a rally at the State Capital calling for accountability for these failures.


  15. - dbk - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 1:30 pm:

    Does anyone know why Rockford’s percentage of vacancies is so high (43%)?

    From a purely pragmatic standpoint, this suggests that DCFS staff there are able to accomplish only about 57% of the job …

    Two notes:

    1) It takes years - sometimes, decades - to build a robust, resilient, responsive social services program

    2) Even the most effective social service can be destroyed in the blink of an eye through budgetary cuts and blatant neglect.

    I agree that the Gov needs to adopt DCFS as his “own” social service henceforth. For any of his staff who might read these comments: doing so would not be primarily a political move. The Gov has a moral obligation to demonstrate that he truly cares about our most vulnerable, neglected, mistreated children.


  16. - Candy Dogood - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 1:39 pm:

    There are many hundreds of positions that have been included in the budget for DCFS that are not filled. They have not hired the staff that the Legislature and Governor thought was an appropriate staffing level. Without filling these hundreds of positions it is very clear that they are unable to meet service level adequacy and because of that the agency is failing in it’s mission, and it is destroying the morale of the over worked and endlessly mandated staff that DCFS does have.

    We have reached the point with DCFS where we cannot rely on a passive process or things muddling through until they eventually get to a staffing level that is actually capable of doing the job years from now. It’s not just something that is measured in time either, it can be measured in the number of pediatric deaths of children who DCFS should be doing a better job of intervening to address.

    Increased spending would certainly help, but the agency isn’t spending everything it is appropriated now because they have hundreds of unfilled positions. This will require special and extraordinary effort to fix in a time frame that is morally conscionable and the current state of affairs at DCFS is completely unfair to the dedicated women and men who are trying to do everything they can with the losing situation that has been forced upon them.

    This has been a problem that has been brewing for years, and it needs attention right now.


  17. - cermak_rd - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 2:50 pm:

    Why can’t we fix this (recurring for most of my life) problem by throwing money at it? If we can’t hire workers then offer more money. Someone above suggested hiring non-degreed people, can’t we do that and have a requirement that they complete the cousework to get a degree paid for by the state? If raising wages is too hard (re other unions) surely agreement to pay off school loans quicker might work to get more applicants?
    Also maybe start reexamining returning children to f-up parents. Yes that has its own problems, but I might state that this situation is the only one where the victim is supposed to forgive the perp.


  18. - btowntruth from forgottonia - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 3:36 pm:

    “I am still watching and waiting for the in the womb “it’s alive” idolatry crew to be in the streets protesting for change when born vulnerable children are allowed to be beaten and starved.”

    Don’t hold your breath.
    Won’t happen until their leaders program them to.


  19. - Oswego Willy - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 4:11 pm:

    It’s time for the Director to move on.

    It may not be his own personal fault, but him staying there, it’s not a good look for him or the governor, it’s a continued headline maker.


  20. - thisjustinagain - Friday, May 13, 22 @ 4:31 pm:

    As some point the contempt should become criminal, and a Court-appointed Director installed to run DCFS. DCFS is actually abusing and neglecting the abused and neglected children in its care as a matter of State policy. JB has inherited a mess and done nothing to fix it during his term. Time for the courts to yet again place Illinois under court orders relating to social services to ensure even minimal compliance with Federal laws regarding these understaffed and underfunded programs.


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