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BGA digs into DCFS’ problems

Thursday, May 26, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The BGA’s Rachel Hinton and David Jackson have a long report on DCFS today. I’ve broken it down into four sections. First, one of the big, well-known problems

In 2021, 343 foster children — some as young as seven — were housed in psychiatric hospitals after doctors cleared them for release, records show.

That is up from the 309 cases from 2019, the BGA found.

“This is a true crisis,” University of Illinois at Chicago psychiatry professor Dr. Michael Naylor wrote in an October 2021 letter to state officials about the improper placements of foster children with mental health needs. […]

He was among 73 foster children locked for weeks or months in the Cook County juvenile temporary detention center without pending charges during 2021, according to a BGA analysis of court and DCFS records.

That is an increase from the 49 similar cases in 2019, the BGA found. […]

He was also among 167 foster children forced to sleep on air mattresses and cots in shelters, government offices or emergency rooms in 2021 as DCFS searched for placements, records show.

That is up from 154 cases the year before, according to the BGA analysis.

* The traffic jam

[DCFS Director Marc Smith] said his agency currently is forced to hold youth in juvenile jails, psychiatric hospitals and shelters because the department lacks safe alternatives.

“Safety is the number one concern of the Department of Children and Family Services,” Smith said. “We do not want to step a child out of a safe environment into a chaotic environment, or into an environment that’s not appropriate. It is better than putting them some place where they’re unsafe.”

Under then-Gov. Rauner, Illinois in 2015 embarked on a deliberate mission to decrease the number of youth in large institutions after a Chicago Tribune investigation showed some facilities were riddled by violence, runaways and sex-trafficking.

Illinois lost an estimated 460 beds in private residential treatment centers for youth since then, and DCFS has struggled to create the hundreds of promised therapeutic foster homes.

As of November, there were only 26 therapeutic foster homes — all run by Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. Data provided by LSSI suggests those foster homes are effective in keeping their wards on track.

DCFS is currently negotiating to add 30 new shelter beds, 28 new residential beds for youth with autism or intellectual disabilities, and 43 new emergency foster beds “in the next few months,” according to a recent department plan.

* The staffing issues

Since 2015, some 500 child protection staff have left the department, DCFS said in one court filing from late March. The COVID-19 pandemic created “a nationwide hiring crisis that has impacted the child welfare sector acutely.”

In that court filing DCFS acknowledged it wasn’t hiring new workers fast enough to keep up with investigations and rising numbers of children in state care.

Statewide, the agency’s job vacancy rate soared to over 21% this March from less than 9% in March of last year, court records show. In 2021, the agency employed nearly 3,000.

Of those who remain, nearly 35% are managing caseloads that exceed limits set by a 1991 federal consent decree, according to April figures from the union that represents agency employees. […]

DCFS also raised its recruitment staff from two to seven people, and cut the time to onboard new recruits from six months to two. It added recruitment efforts at the Chicago Auto Show and the Illinois State Fair, and brought on retired workers under 75-day contracts.

And the department has been conducting “blitzes” at field offices, in which volunteer staff from other sites sweep in to complete investigations and paperwork, according to court records filed by DCFS.

* One reason for the staffing issues

Bill McCaffrey, a DCFS spokesman, said agency workers have endured only 20 threats or assaults in the five years ending in January, during which they made 2.5 million home visits.

Not true, says the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents about 2,800 agency employees. The union reports 20 incidents of threat or assault against DCFS workers in the first quarter of 2021 alone, and 29 more throughout the rest of the year.

McCaffrey said the union’s figures reflect a broader range of threats and violence outside of home visits, including at hospitals, offices, residential facilities or through email or text. Not all warrant notifying law enforcement, McCaffrey said.

The threats may not all warrant calling the cops, but they’re still an issue for the folks on the receiving end. That’s a truly unfortunate dismissal by McCaffrey.


  1. - Steve Polite - Thursday, May 26, 22 @ 1:37 pm:

    Maybe it’s time to rethink state run homes for children as a supplement to private placements considering the difficulty in placing children in private settings. I know it won’t meet the immediate need; however, It could be a longer term solution.

    The best time to plant a tree - 20 years ago.
    The second best time to plant a tree - Now.

  2. - Honeybear - Thursday, May 26, 22 @ 2:00 pm:

    Exactly what I was talking about.
    DCFS needs to throw everything they’ve got at recruiting front line folks.
    Especially higher pay
    Increased safety measures

    Again, Willy Wonka didn’t make the chocolate
    Focus on DCFS leadership takes away from
    Getting new folks to the front line and keeping them there.
    And don’t tell me about going to job fairs.
    Increase the pay and safety measures
    Then recruit at every university up to two states away the has a social work school. Spare no expense

    And spokespeople for DCFS better do better.
    Everybody knows it’s a hard job.
    For the love of God don’t down play that.
    That’s like an Army special forces recruiter saying being an army ranger is not that dangerous.

    I also have to say this is just the tip of the iceberg on staff shortages.
    7000 plus vacancies statewide.
    It’s gonna get a lot worse
    A lot more failures

    Keeping a lean workforce looks good on paper.
    Pritzker needs to up the hiring across the board.
    Or else
    This is just the beginning of unimaginable
    Intractable problems

  3. - Papa2008 - Thursday, May 26, 22 @ 4:01 pm:

    All the increased pay and safety measures in the world will not help the fact there aren’t placement options for “violent” patients. Having worked in private social services for 20 years, the first placement disqualifying behavior was a tendency to violence. The state will never pony up the funds that would be required to build, staff, and maintain a patient friendly, behavior modifying facility. The reason why: As a former state legislator told me “your folks don’t vote”. Our sorry state indeed.

  4. - Candy Dogood - Thursday, May 26, 22 @ 10:03 pm:

    Using the numbers provided if 3000 employees was at a 9% vacancy rate, and this year they’re at a 21% vacancy rate, then there are more than 680 vacant positions at DCFS.

    The agency will be facing more retirements and there will be more employees leaving because of work conditions that are discussed in the article, never mind issues that aren’t included. Or as the Governor somewhat cavalierly suggested, started the job with some kind of reasonable expectation of what their lives would be like only to discover that their employer will force them into awful situations as a condition of employment. I’m sure when you’re a few months into your job and you’re sitting alone in a state office building in the middle of the night with a child you’ve taken into custody and the agency is unable to place them that it’s a real moment of reflection for whether you want to keep working for DCFS.

    So, how many months does DCFS think it’s going to need to fill these nearly 700 positions and replace retirements and people who just can’t push themselves to work in a dumpster fire and pretend that everything is fine anymore.

    Public efforts to put a positive spin on what is going on is just going to make employee morale worse. The employees of DCFS deserve a a response from the Governor that is more plan and less spin.

    Through the dysfunction at DCFS the State of Illinois is destroying the lives of vulnerable children and causing life long harm.

    Don’t worry, though, they’ve gone from 2 recruitment staff to 7. Never mind that if the agency is fully staffed through normal attrition they should be expecting to hire at least 100 to 200 people a year.

  5. - Joe - Thursday, May 26, 22 @ 10:38 pm:

    Using “beds” as a way to talk about a place for children to live maybe more than semantics, but indicative of our approach to caring for these vulnerable kids?

  6. - Da big bad wolf - Friday, May 27, 22 @ 5:46 am:

    === Using “beds” as a way to talk about a place for children to live maybe more than semantics, but indicative of our approach to caring for these vulnerable kids?===
    It doesn’t signify people don’t care. It’s a measuring tool. It’s the lingo for the people in that field.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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