A state audit released on Thursday found that the Department of Children and Family Services, tasked with investigating and overseeing cases of child abuse and neglect, failed to comply with reforms aimed at increasing child safety passed in 2019.
The 124-page report from the state’s auditor general found dozens of cases in which DCFS failed to keep records of home safety inspections, problems with the department’s record-keeping systems and issues with its tracking of medical wellness check-ups and other health care exams.
The audit was requested by lawmakers as they passed a 2019 law reforming aspects of the department and introducing new requirements for child safety. The law was named for Ta’Naja Barnes, a 2-year-old who died of dehydration, malnourishment, neglect and cold exposure. Barnes died six months after being returned to her mother, who was later convicted of murder for her death, according to the auditor general’s report.
One of the primary findings of the audit is that DCFS neglected its responsibilities when it comes to inspecting homes of children under its care.
When a case is being handled by DCFS, the department is regularly required to conduct assessments of homes by completing home safety checklists. The checklists ask a case worker to check to make sure the home has things such as heat, water and working toilets. These checklists should have been updated with information about environmental barriers or hazards in the home to comply with the 2019 law.
When state auditors asked for a sample of 195 of these checklists, the department was unable to provide 192 of them. The three it did provide hadn’t been updated. The checklist available on the DCFS website is still out of date, as of May 12.
The department was able to provide a different home inspection form for some cases, though these reports do not cover the same topics.
"These children may still have been in unsafe conditions because detailed assessments of their physical home and safety practices of the caregivers addressed by the Home Safety Checklist were not completed," reads the report.
The department’s official response to this finding in the report indicated that it will update the form, institute new training for employees and begin conducting monthly reviews of cases.
Beyond issues with the home inspections, state auditors also found cases of children with poorly recorded or missing health care records.
"Children in DCFS’ care are not receiving their well-child visits/check-ups as required by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Department of Public Health’s administrative rules, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services handbook for providers, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, as well as DCFS’ own procedures," reads the report.
Of the cases the auditors sampled, 18% were missing a physical exam, 14% were missing a vision screening, 56% were missing a hearing screening and 88% were missing a dental exam. The department’s record-keeping system also contained data entry errors.
These data problems have been an issue for some time. In the state’s last regular audit of the department, which covered a two-year period ending June 30, 2020, auditors identified similar data entry issues.
Auditors were completely unable to assess whether the department had accurate records of immunizations because the data provided to them by DCFS failed to meet standards for validity and reliability.
"It is imperative that the medical information entered is correct," read the report.
DCFS pointed out in the report that medical services for most youths in its care is provided by YouthCare, a private health care company. Case workers can access these records through a portal maintained by YouthCare, according to the department.
"DCFS had previously identified that its outdated data tracking systems limited its ability to track new requirements," said Bill McCaffrey, a DCFS spokesperson, in a statement. "As a result, DCFS was already undertaking significant steps to address these issues, including a complete replacement of the department’s child welfare information systems."
Auditors also found that the agency failed to document services provided to families after a judge determines that a child should be placed with their original family or guardian. These include things like in-home visits, educational advocacy, referrals to medical or psychological treatment or housing assistance, according to McCaffrey
State law requires the department to provide these "aftercare" services for six months to families. Auditors found that 58% of cases they tested didn’t meet that requirement.
DCFS said that it has taken steps to address these and other issues, including training staff, expanding resources and addressing staffing challenges at child welfare organizations.
“The Department of Children and Family Services has taken aggressive measures to improve the services and care provided to youth in care during the past three years," said McCaffrey.
The report also identified that the department is unable to track or identify referrals made by mandated reporters as a result of new requirements in the 2019 law. These referrals come from people like teachers or social workers who are required to report signs of abuse or neglect.
DCFS provided some data to suggest it was tracking these reports and that the 2019 reforms resulted in a significant increase in referrals, though it failed to provide this information to investigators until after it had completed the work, according to the report.
These are not the only problems facing DCFS recently. In late April, DCFS Director Marc Smith was held in contempt of court for failing to place a 15-year-old boy with special needs in a setting that complied with court orders. The boy was held in a locked psychiatric unit for months, despite having a medical release and a court order for DCFS to move the boy.
This was the ninth time this year that Smith has faced a contempt citation for similar charges.
The department has also drawn criticism for its worker safety. In January, Deidre Silas died on the job after being slain while doing a home visit.
These problems have caused lawmakers to criticize the department and for politicians to start launching blame for the situation at the governor.
"DCFS continues to disregard orders to move children out of very, very dangerous locations," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said on Thursday. "The governor needs to own up to this. He has never taken responsibility for DCFS."
via The State Journal-Register
May 12, 2022 at 05:37PM