Illinois senators grill DCFS director during budget hearing

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) — The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is requesting $2 billion for the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, but state lawmakers want to ensure the money is used properly to keep kids safe.

DCFS Director Marc Smith told the Senate Appropriations Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday night that his proposed budget would be a $197 million increase over the agency’s current budget. He explained 72% of the money would go toward grants for child welfare providers that support children and families.

Smith’s staff said 85% of foster care services are covered by private providers. 90% of intact family services are also covered by private agencies.

“Our head of child welfare programming recently has met with every president of each of our private agencies to talk about our level of expectation of their work, our new priorities around permanency and service delivery, and have really worked hard to hold our agencies accountable to a standard of care,” Smith said.

While DCFS is still responsible for abuse and neglect investigations, many lawmakers are upset that the department is outsourcing most of the work without proper oversight.

“There’s no difference between the level of care that you receive if you stay with the department or are supported by one of the contract agencies,” Smith claimed. “That’s our goal and we will work aggressively to ensure that goal.”

Still, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the agency for not meeting the highest standards to keep children alive. Sen. Seth Lewis (R-Bartlett) slammed the director after the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reported that more kids continue to die while under the state’s care.

“What the heck is going on and when is it going to change so that you stop getting sued, so we stop seeing deaths as the headline, and that our public can feel confident that we’re overseeing $2 billion to your department in a way in which they expect a better result,” Lewis asked.

171 children involved with DCFS died during Fiscal Year 2022, according to the Inspector General’s January report. Although, Smith argued that not all 171 children who died were under protection of DCFS.

Smith said that number reflects any child the agency has a relationship with a member of their family. He noted that the Inspector General’s report showed over 60 of those children died of natural causes.

Illinois DCFS Director Marc Smith answered questions from senators during a budget hearing on April 19, 2023.

“They’re children who died because of the nature of our business. We care for a lot of children,” Smith said. “We care for children who are in different states of medical concern, different areas in which parents can care for them and don’t have the resources to care for them. And then, we provide end of life care.”

Smith also said the “vast majority” of those children were never youth in care or brought to the attention of DCFS until after they died. DCFS officials claimed on seven of the 171 youth died from child abuse even though 97 of those reports met the state’s criteria for abuse and neglect investigations.

“I don’t think the OIG is just investigating children death in Illinois. That number would be a lot bigger,” said Sen. Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights). “They’re investigating a number related to or somehow had a tangential relationship with the department. And I really think that we deserve to have a breakdown of exactly what that all is.”

The DCFS budget proposal includes an $18 million increase to hire 192 more staff to take on increasing caseloads. Smith said he hopes to see DCFS staff grow to over 3,600 people to meet the demand.

The agency’s proposed budget also includes a $41 million increase for the main roll-out of a comprehensive child welfare information system. $30 million is also earmarked for capital grants to help providers improve capacity for youth placement in clinical settings.

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April 21, 2023 at 06:45PM

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