In the wake of a Illinois auditor general report detailing deficiencies in the state’s Department of Children and Family Services and the news of more child deaths, lawmakers on Wednesday grilled DCFS officials on their plan to improve the agency.
As of April 29, there had been 103 deaths since July 1 of children who were connected with DCFS.
Meryl Paniak, inspector general for the department, told the House Adoption and Child Welfare committee that between April 29 and May 8, that number rose to 112, meaning there had been nine more deaths in nine days.
The auditor general’s report on DCFS, released Tuesday, found that proper procedures were not being followed during the time surveyed, fiscal years 2015 through 2017 and that investigators were taking on too many cases.
“If you have staff that are overburdened, you’re going to have errors,” Paniak said. “Our child protection staff will tell you in certain areas, they have received too many cases and they can’t manage them.”
“We all know that workforce problems will negatively affect outcomes,” she said.
At the same time, Paniak told committee members, the department cannot just “add more staff” to solve problems.
“We can all agree that DCFS cannot do things the same way and expect better outcomes,” she said.
Four places the department can start fixing are safety assessment, training, supervision and making sure investigators have manageable caseloads, Paniak said.
DCFS director Marc Smith said the agency launched a review of over 1,200 pending investigations on Monday, and changes are coming in training, such as working on a new schedule.
“This is not a one-time fix,” he said. “We are going to require all child welfare workers to participate in trainings and updates on a regular interval going forward.”
Several lawmakers asked if the 126 additional case workers included in the governor’s budget is going to be enough.
“I realize it’s always going to be a challenging environment, … but what is it going to take to get to a point where we’re stabilized? Where we’re not in a crisis, and we’re not at risk of having (112) children die who are under DCFS care?” asked Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin.
Royce Kirkpatrick, chief financial officer for DCFS, confirmed the 126 is “really just the first step,” meant to make the agency more compliant with a federal consent decree dictating the amount of cases investigators are allowed.
Two lawmakers told DCFS officials that community providers have told them they’re reluctant in many instances to report to the agency; they fear it could actually be more dangerous for the child.
Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, said providers are concerned about the chaos in the department, including the rotation of case managers and falsifying of records.
“When people report and don’t see action being taken, it undermines the idea that there is value in reporting,” she said. “We need to work on that culture of trust and believability.”
Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said communities do not think DCFS is helping families.
“Many of them think that DCFS (is) killing our kids,” she said. “That is a problem. That has to change.”
Smith said he understands the feelings of anxiety and concern.
“There is no one answer. I wish there was,” he said. “We see the tragedies because they’re horrific, but we can build on our strengths, we can build on our skills that a lot of our veteran (employees) have.”
Contact Cassie Buchman: 782-3095, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/cjbuchman.
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May 8, 2019 at 08:56PM