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Candidates talk around DCFS

Tuesday, May 31, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Tribune editorial board

In March, Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith was cited an eighth time on a contempt of court order for failing to appropriately place a teen who was in the agency’s care into the proper setting. What should be done to address the agency’s shortage of proper shelter for children in DCFS care? What other reforms do you believe are needed at DCFS?

* Gov. JB Pritzker’s response

Former Governor Bruce Rauner decimated social services at DCFS, intentionally cutting 500 residential beds and refusing to pass a budget for over 700 days. Making improvements to this state agency is not like flipping a light switch: it requires ongoing investments and efforts.

As Governor, I’ve sought outside input on strategies and tactics to improve DCFS. As a result of those recommendations, we’ve increased DCFS’s budget by over $340 million, launched aggressive efforts to hire hundreds of additional staff, and eliminated the DCFS abuse and neglect reporting hotline backlog––reducing the percentage of calls requiring callbacks from 50% in 2019 to under 1% now.

DCFS has also overhauled its technology, led trainings for every staff member, and is working hard to create needed placements for children. Importantly, DCFS has bolstered its provider network and intends to hire an additional 360 DCFS staff this year and next. The agency has made improvements––but there’s still work to do––and those who seek to use our most vulnerable as political pawns don’t deserve to lead our state.

There’s still a lot of work to do, governor. A lot.

* Richard Irvin

It’s heartbreaking to see a state agency repeatedly endanger the lives of our most vulnerable children. The public has a right to know how long J.B. Pritzker has known about the horrific problems inside his agency and why he defends his hand-picked director who continues to be found in contempt of court. This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s an issue of incompetence, corruption and lack of compassion. We need new leadership at the top in Illinois to fix the problems at DCFS.

Priority one: Fire the current director of DCFS who, as of April, has been found in contempt of court nine times for failing to protect our most vulnerable children. We need competent leaders who can drive improvements inside DCFS, and partners in the General Assembly willing to remove any barriers to reform.

Fire the director and hope for the best, apparently. And since the contempt fines are being tossed out by the appellate courts, I’m kinda wondering if these contempt findings are really worth anything.

* Gary Rabine

As Governor, I will immediately initiate a thorough review of the operations of DCFS. From that review I will make an assessment of every aspect of DCFS and from that assessment make the reforms necessary. Reforming DCFS will be one of my top priorities as Governor.

There is no agency of Government more important than the one that protects children and there is no bigger failure of the Pritzker Administration in its management of DCFS.

Hooray. Another blue ribbon panel.

* Paul Schimpf

Like so many other agencies, the Department of Children and Family Services is missing leadership from the Governor’s Mansion that demands results and holds agency directors accountable. I am open to establishing a dedicated revenue stream that will fund the necessary shelters for DCFS care.

Money is not really an issue at DCFS these days, unless you cut taxes. Then it becomes an issue everywhere in government.

* Jesse Sullivan

The crisis at DCFS is very personal to me and my family – my wife Monique and I made the decision to be foster parents and have welcomed two incredible foster kids into our home. Other politicians will say they’re pro-life or pro-family – we’re living it.

The problems at DCFS, sadly, go deeper than a quick fix. It takes a culture change at the top, and the solution isn’t just going to be throwing more money at a broken system - they’ve tried throwing more money at the system, but nothing changes. Fixing this broken system is going to require partnering with and empowering the faith and civic leaders in our state; they are the key to solving this crisis. It will also require recruiting great families to foster our most vulnerable children, which is something I am uniquely suited to do, as a foster parent.

The state already partners with faith and civic groups. Outside groups deliver the services. And while being a foster parent is a hugely commendable endeavor, fostering children with such severe violent behavioral issues that they wound up stuck in psychiatric hospitals with no place to go is a whole other story.

Darren Bailey didn’t answer the Trib’s questions.


  1. - Homebody - Tuesday, May 31, 22 @ 4:33 pm:

    == There’s still a lot of work to do, governor. A lot. ==

    I’m not sure what else he can be saying in response to these questions.

    Unless someone magically turns on the money faucet, the reality is there has been a dearth of available resources for these kids for years (if not decades), because there isn’t an appetite to pay for what is needed (including specialized foster placements, services, etc).

    I have some friends who work in the child welfare field, and as far as I can tell from what they share, many of the issues are almost entirely and directly correlated to money spent. But these things took years to get to the place they are now, and will take years to build back up.

  2. - PublicServant - Tuesday, May 31, 22 @ 4:34 pm:

    If Pritzker isn’t doing enough, and needs to do more, I think it’s necessary to keep up the pressure on him. But, while I don’t disagree with you, Rich, regarding your observation the A LOT more needs to be done, what would you suggest he do now?

  3. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, May 31, 22 @ 6:11 pm:

    ===launched aggressive efforts to hire hundreds of additional staff===

    Launched is a fun word. When will these staff be hired? It still looks like it is years away to me.

    === fostering children with such severe violent behavioral issues that they wound up stuck in psychiatric hospitals with no place to go is a whole other story.===

    It’s nice that Jesse is a foster parent. Let’s see Jesse open up his home to teenage placements.

  4. - James MacIntyre Fan - Tuesday, May 31, 22 @ 6:19 pm:

    === Rich, regarding your observation the A LOT more needs to be done, what would you suggest he do now? ===

    Do a bona fide national search and pick someone that Democrats (Pritzker) and Republicans (Griffin) can both support, give them a ten year contract upfront with a three year COLA and a two-year severance.

    Tell Marc Smith he’s welcome to put his name in the hat.

  5. - Back to the Future - Wednesday, Jun 1, 22 @ 9:03 am:

    Saw a comment here by a Public Guardian that things are worse than the have been in 30 years.
    Obviously after 3 and a half years Pritzker has been a failure and refused to acknowledge his failure by starting off by blaming another Governor and refusing to admit his issues with letting this situation get worse as well as not showing any concern for these children.
    We really need a more mature and emphatic approach to dealing with these problems. Appealing contempt orders rather than dealing with the problems before the orders and fines are entered is further proof that Pritzker doesn’t have the maturity or empathy to help these children.
    Frankly I would be more comfortable with having the system being taken over for a time by the court system. The General Assembly and Pritzker are just not capable of making this agency work for these children.
    Thought Irvin’s idea of firing the fellow who keeps getting cited for contempt is long overdue.

  6. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jun 1, 22 @ 9:12 am:

    ===Frankly I would be more comfortable with having the system being taken over for a time by the court system===

    Yeah, that’ll work so well.

  7. - Back to the Future - Wednesday, Jun 1, 22 @ 9:23 am:

    Absolutely agree it will be tough, but with the executive branch and the legislative branch failing these children the Courts are the only alternative left.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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