Capitol - Your Illinois News Radar » NASW on DCFS Director: “Holding onto failed leadership just so our governor doesn’t have to admit his choice didn’t work out is hurting children in Illinois”
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NASW on DCFS Director: “Holding onto failed leadership just so our governor doesn’t have to admit his choice didn’t work out is hurting children in Illinois”

Tuesday, May 17, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The governor was asked again yesterday about the future of DCFS Director Marc Smith…

Let’s start with these are the most vulnerable children in our state. We owe it to them to do everything that we can to keep them healthy, safe, and make sure that we’re providing the services that are necessary for them and for the people who are caring for them.

When I came into office, many of the employees that we needed at DCFS had gone away, again defunding of DCFS. Twelve directors over the course of less than 15 years, 12 directors. So this idea that when you have an agency that is so challenged, like DCFS, that just cycling through leaders is somehow going to be helpful. Not at all. You need stability, in fact, in order for an agency to improve. So you have to start out with a good leader, we have a good leader, somebody who is working very hard and comes from an agency that was directly serving these children.

You’ve got to provide the resources necessary. And then you’ve got to rebuild things that took years to build up and then were devastated by Governor Rauner. 500 residential beds were done away with during the Rauner administration. You can’t snap your fingers and get 500 beds back. These agencies and organizations don’t have 500 available beds, if you stop contracting with them, they either go out of business, or they provide those services to other agencies even out of state because they don’t trust the government. And remember, bills weren’t paid back then, either. So now we’re rebuilding trust, we’re also rebuilding those beds. I think you’ve seen a plan that the agency put forward, if you haven’t, I’ll provide it to you, in which we’re putting literally dozens of beds every month back into service so that we can provide the kind of residential care.

And then finally, I just say we have more work to do. But if you look inside this agency, many, many positive things have happened. And the best example I can give you, but there are others is, it used to be when I took office, before I took office, 50% of the calls that were going into DCFS were calls about neglect, abuse, all of them were about neglect and abuse. Only 50% of them were being responded to immediately, the other 50% were going into voicemail, and then got responded to over some period of time. Now 99% of all the calls that come into our hotline are responded to immediately. That’s a big change. And it took a lot of effort to get that done. And that’s just one of a list a long list of things that needed to be improved, but take time to do that. We weren’t able to do that in a month or two. That literally took the first year to get the scheduling redone to make sure that the people that you hired understood that they were now going to have to work different hours in order to answer those calls. to put in a a system of reporting that included an online system, there are people who don’t want to talk teachers and others who don’t want to talk to somebody on the phone about it. They’ll put their name in, and their contact information, but they don’t really want to engage in a conversation. They just want to report what they’ve seen. And then that’s another system that we put in to make sure that we’re responding and getting that information immediately. So there’s a lot of work still to be done, I know that. But just hammering on the leader of an agency and not looking at the work that’s being done underneath with the University of Chicago, Chapin Hall with Annie E. Casey Foundation, all advising this agency and making the improvements necessary. All of that work is being done and it would be worthy of all of you just to take a look at that work.

* Pritzker talks a lot about the hotline, so I asked for and received this list about other progress at DCFS since the governor took office in 2019…

• Launched a comprehensive training and retraining program for all DCFS staff.
• Built a new simulation training lab at UIC and building new labs at NIU and SIU for a statewide footprint.
• Achieved the highest DCFS headcount in a decade with nearly 3,000 employees, 79 percent of who are frontline staff.
• Provided a 58 percent increase to child welfare residential providers since FY19 with cost of living increases to private child welfare staff four years in a row after staff went without increases in 16 of the last 18 years.
• Launched a new healthcare plan for 30,000 youth in care with a network three times the size of the previous network and care coordinators to book appointments and help families navigate the process.
• Added more than 100 residential beds with more in the pipeline that are equipped to serve children with the most complex medical needs.
• Dramatically expedited the time it takes background information on families to be provided to investigators from weeks in 2019 to within an hour of a case being assigned today.
• Launched pilot programs across the state with local law enforcement to jointly respond in cases where there are safety concerns.
• Not only eliminated the hotline backlog, but launched a new online reporting system so residents can now report complaints faster and easier than at any point in DCFS history.

* From Kyle Hillman, Legislative Affairs Director for the National Association of Social Workers…

While we deeply share the governor’s desire to finally see stability at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), maintaining failed leadership to accomplish stability undermines the department and harms the very children who need DCFS to succeed. We joined others in support of Director Smith (a licensed clinical social worker) when he was announced by the governor. His background and experience within the child welfare system seemed to set him up to be a good fit to serve in this critical position. In reality, the Director has proven time and time again that the job is too large and the challenges too difficult to be addressed with his underperforming leadership.

The department’s relationship with child welfare agencies, advocates, and foster parents continues to be eroded. The Director’s DCFS culture that allows leadership to even consider shackling children, forcing kids to sleep on office floors, that places LGBTQIA+ kids in non-affirming placements, and leaving children locked in hospitals to grow up, continue. As we saw in the recent audit, even basic requirements of child welfare are being ignored. A lack of urgency to address even the most pressing issues facing the department must fall squarely on the Director.

We might feel differently if the Director had a strategic plan with timelines that the General Assembly was refusing to fund. Instead, we have seen the General Assembly dramatically increase funding for the department only for the most glaring issues to remain unaddressed.

We wince at the idea of yet another change at DCFS, but holding onto failed leadership just so our governor doesn’t have to admit his choice didn’t work out is hurting children in Illinois. Protecting our kids, strengthening families in trauma, and ensuring our kids brought into care succeed should be more important than the politics playing out here. Our kids can’t wait until after an election, we need the governor to act now.


  1. - Real - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 1:54 pm:

    I agree with Pritzker. You can’t keep cycling thru leaders and not allowing time for them to address these problems. Let the leader their have some time to work.

  2. - Excitable Boy - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:06 pm:

    I agree with Pritzker in theory, but where is the progress? He either needs to be replaced or supplemented with people that can move the ball forward.

  3. - sideliner - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:07 pm:

    Didn’t Pritzker do a nationwide search for that job and they hired Smith? I don’t think there are a ton of people willing to take on that position, especially with the relentless bad press no matter what you do and the constant threat of turnover.

    Also, interesting to me that you don’t see the constant critics lining up to go run the agency.

    Does DCFS have challenges? Absolutely.
    Does DCFS always get a fair shake when the worst of the worst cases are discussed? Absolutely not. DCFS isn’t the only government body involved with a family, there are other service providers, there are courts that actually make the decisions for where the children go. Police, if there’s a criminal element. Does the agency need to restore its services quicker? Yes. But that’s easier said than done. Years of work dismantling the agency under Sheldon took place and it will take years to reverse course. 100 beds is just a fraction of what Sheldon erased and we’ve seen the need at DCFS skyrocket over the same time.

    So you get rid of Marc Smith… Who is next in line? It will take MONTHS to find a replacement.

  4. - Lucky Pierre - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:09 pm:

    Same old same old passing the Buck from JB

    Failures in the third year of his administration are the Republican’s fault

  5. - Donnie Elgin - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:19 pm:

    Governor’s own

  6. - Almost the Weekend - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:20 pm:

    JB more worried about perception of Twitter opinions in the liberal bubble and images of DEI than actually governing for the betterment of the people and putting employees in position to do their job well.

    Happened with CLV now this embarrassment.

  7. - Real - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:20 pm:

    Maybe Pritzker should hire Kyle Hillman since he seems to know what to do.

  8. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:32 pm:

    Kyle Hillman’s statement reminded me of an observation made by a former supervisor, a lifelong Sangamon County resident, when Dan Walker’s legal difficulties started. While staunchly pro-union, he hated teacher’s unions. To explain, he talked about Gov. Ogilvie, his record and accomplishments, getting the income tax, increasing funding for education. The response of the teacher’s unions / associations (such as they were in 1976)? Ogilvie hadn’t done enough, and they supported Dan Walker.

    How did Dan Walker “reward” them? By shorting teacher pension payments (Quinn, Filan, and Vaught were apparently paying very close attention).

    Kyle Hillman’s statement, in view of who he’ll face in November, smacks of the very same thing. Mr. Hillman, inertia is real.

  9. - Who else - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:51 pm:

    ==Maybe Pritzker should hire Kyle Hillman since he seems to know what to do.==

    Yeah. I do understand the knee-jerk desire Kyle Hillman and others have for a scapegoat. It can be a useful tool for political reasons. But we’ve seen Governors scapegoat DCFS directors (or seen directors go running) and that’s not useful when it comes to implementing cultural change. Maybe I’m an outlier, but I think it’s refreshing not to have this director scapegoated in the way advocates seem to be clamoring for. It would definitely be the easy thing for the Governor to do at this point, but he’s not doing it.

    I understand that there is this theory that there is some magical person who can both operate effectively within and change structural deficiencies at the agency on a near-term-timeline. What I haven’t seen is anyone point to who this magical person is, and that’s because magic isn’t real. This is going to take time and work, and it will never be good enough because there will always be more work that has to get done. Director Smith doesn’t shy away from that responsibility, and the Governor doesn’t appear to deny that reality.

  10. - Sis Daley - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 2:53 pm:

    DCFS’ problems seem closely tied to the passage of the “Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act” of 10 years ago.

    Agencies that wouldn’t place children with same-sex couples were prohibited from participating in the foster care program.

    The agencies that opted out, mainly faith-based, were not replaced by DCFS. As importantly, the number of same-sex foster parents that were anticipated, never materialized.

    So today, children are sleeping in agency offices, or lingering in rehab centers longer than needed due, in part, to the decade old law.

    But, those kids can rest easy, knowing they live in such a progressive state /s/

  11. - Who else - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 3:03 pm:

    ==DCFS’ problems seem closely tied to the passage of the “Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act” of 10 years ago.==

    Yikes. I thought this comment was going to be satirical in the end but it was not. I think most people will think through this without blaming the fight for marriage equality, which is a fairly wild thing to do.

  12. - Lincoln Lad - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 3:12 pm:

    Smith has not worked out… it’s time to rebuild the leadership team from Director… to General Counsel… to COO…. to Deputy Gov… Make this a top priority and make something happen…bring in a true A-Team and support them in every way possible.

  13. - Sis Daley - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 3:17 pm:

    “I think most people will think through this without blaming…”

    The number of agencies supporting DCFS, that were removed from the roles, because of this law set a record. Correspondingly foster parents, many with decades of experience, opted out as well.

    DCFS assumed they could handle the departures. Clearly they could not.

  14. - Anonymous - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 3:30 pm:

    Watch Kyle’s head explode in 3..2..1 when the Irvin campaign uses his words in a TV ad.

  15. - OneMan - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 3:50 pm:

    We might feel differently if the Director had a strategic plan with timelines that the General Assembly was refusing to fund. Instead, we have seen the General Assembly dramatically increase funding for the department only for the most glaring issues to remain unaddressed.

    there is your quote right there, coming from a national social worker organization. Yep, it is going to be in more than one campaign ad in the fall.

  16. - Stanley - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 4:25 pm:

    @Sis Daley - I’m not sure how you made that connection, but the contracts and the associated foster home licenses were transferred to other private agencies who don’t discriminate against LGBTQ+ families. Some families may have declined to transfer their licenses, opting out of foster care altogether, but otherwise the homes remained active.

  17. - Demoralized - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 4:36 pm:

    ==Correspondingly foster parents, many with decades of experience, opted out as well.==

    If those foster parents harbor the same sort of hate the agencies harbored then I don’t want them being foster parents.

  18. - JB13 - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 9:42 pm:

    Kyle Hillman is spot on. And it is a recurring problem with this administration: Clinging to Pritzker’s decisions, even if they are dead wrong, simply to continue pretending he is some sort of amazing and unparalleled leader, who only fails because the “evil people” conspired against him, or “because Rauner,” or some other preposterous excuse, given the lack of a functioning opposition party in this state.

    It’s a major blind spot that in a more politically balanced state would undoubtedly cost him his job - and still may.

  19. - Give Us Barabbas - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 10:36 pm:

    There’s flashy press pops for ribbon cutting and hiring/ firing but more vital is the back office long term improvements. JB should imitate Jane Byrne at the CHA and haunt the DCFS offices regularly.

  20. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, May 17, 22 @ 11:10 pm:

    === to make sure that the people that you hired understood that they were now going to have to work different hours in order to answer those calls.===

    I don’t like this kind of deflection. New hires at DCFS are coming into an agency that is grossly understaffed for it’s mission. New employees aren’t surprised that they have to “work different hours” they see their tenured co-workers be required to work detail after detail and spend a full day at work after working through the night before, or spend an entire night sitting in an office with a child who has been taken into custody because there aren’t enough foster care beds available.

    That’s not the job they signed up for, that’s not the job at DCFS that anyone signed up for — those are the conditions that have been forced upon them by years and years of mismanagement.

    Is Pritzker doing better than other governors? Sure, but there are still hundreds of positions unfilled and no where near enough placement options.

    This kind of statement isn’t very far removed from putting up a sign on the door bemoaning how no one really wants to work any more. They have created awful work place conditions and the consequence of having awful work place conditions is losing new hires and staff who don’t want to endure something that they shouldn’t have to endure.

    If the Governor wants new hires to do him a favor at DCFS and labor under awful work place conditions, he should try asking them to do that himself by meeting with each new group of trainees to stick it out instead of pretending like quitting isn’t what any reasonable person would do when they found out what their job duties were going to really be like.

  21. - Galway Bay - Wednesday, May 18, 22 @ 6:57 am:

    Been Gov over 3 years. It’s all yours JB.

  22. - MBM - Wednesday, May 18, 22 @ 3:14 pm:

    Interesting position for JB to take that stability is more important than outcomes. Think he’d say the same if it came to retaining a CEO for one of the companies he invested in?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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