ROCKFORD (WREX) — A group of state legislators is demanding answers while the director of the Department of Children and Family Services is being held in contempt of court on three separate cases.
Lawmakers and Stateline agencies alike are now asking what can be done so social workers can do their job effectively.
Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling (RSAC) says the duty to help children and families heal from trauma like domestic and sexual violence is a heavy load to carry. Executive Director Erica Engler says the agency is fortunate to have enough staff and resources but she says she knows how serious the consequences can be when stretched too thin.
"They have that additional level of stress that we don’t have here. We don’t have to go into people’s houses and face the same types of things and if they have staffing shortages then the rest of the staff is kind of having to carry that case load," said Engler. "That’s really tough."
RSAC reports cases of violence and neglect to DCFS and get case referrals from DCFS agents. While Engler says the experience working with DCFS on a local level has been positive; she knows having consistent leadership and quality training for social workers are necessities.
"In some places, their waiting lists are longer than the two to three weeks and then that person has to wait then, and that’s not fair. Someone who has had a crime committed against them now has to wait for the services they need," said Engler.
She says better pay for social workers could help prevent a shortage in the first place. Local lawmakers say there’s no excuse for DCFS.
"Children like AJ and Damari were innocent and we left them unprotected," said State Rep. Tom Weber. "From 2010 to March 2021, 1,122 children who had contact with Illinois Department of Children and Family Services have died. If that’s not a crisis, I don’t know what is."
A crisis that lawmakers say more legislation, money and resources won’t solve.
"Members of the House and Senate of both parties have tried to peel the onion that is DCFS to find the root causes of their failures, and the only conclusion that we could draw is that the agency is unretrievably broken and no amount of money could solve its systemic failures," said State Rep. Steve Reick.
Lawmakers are seeking progress by reform to save the wellbeing of those most vulnerable.
Rep. Reick says he think taking a more localized approach could help, where social workers are held accountable within their own communities.
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January 13, 2022 at 08:15PM