Illinois child welfare chief Beverly “B.J.” Walker told the Tribune late Friday she will step down next month.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker is conducting a national search for a replacement, Walker said, and she has agreed to stay on to help the transition.
“I said they have the responsibility to assess what they need and to bring in the leadership they think can deliver on that,” Walker said in a telephone interview Friday evening.
In a statement, a Pritzker spokeswoman said, “The priority for the Pritzker administration is to ensure smooth transitions during this period.
“In a meeting with the administration today, BJ Walker offered to resign effective Feb. 15. There was no further discussion of accepting the resignation.”
Then-Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Walker to head the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in June 2017 after her predecessor, George Sheldon, resigned amid government investigations into ethical lapses involving state contracts and hires, as well as controversies surrounding the deaths of children in state care.
Because of feuding between the Republican Rauner and the Democratic leadership in Illinois General Assembly, she was never confirmed as head of DCFS and spent her entire tenure as “acting director.”
In recent months, Walker faced criticism over the agency’s reliance on a prominent Uptown psychiatric hospital that has been the subject of multiple abuse complaints about young patients, and DCFS recently was hit with a federal lawsuit by acting Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert alleging children remain stuck in mental facilities longer than needed due to the lack of suitable placements.
In staff meetings and public presentations, Walker said these children represented a profound government challenge that was exacerbated by Illinois’ budget crisis.
The DCFS job represented a return to state government for Walker, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side and later raised and adopted a foster child while living in the Austin community.
She has decades of human services leadership on her résumé. During the 1990s, she helped Republican Gov. Jim Edgar revamp social services in Illinois. She also worked for five years in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s child services department.
From 2004 to 2011, Walker led Georgia’s much larger state department for human services, which included child welfare. That state also had seen a revolving door of directors before her arrival. After a stint in the private sector, Walker agreed in summer 2017 to take over what many consider among the hardest jobs in state government.
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January 25, 2019 at 09:51PM