A recent New York Times investigation also found that many officers who come to work…
The Illinois child welfare agency, headed by Governor JB Pritzker, failed to provide adequate care for the children in its care and failed to properly follow up on cases reported by people legally required to report suspected abuse or neglect, according to an audit statement released Thursday.
The Department of Children and Family Services’ scathing review marks the second time in a week that Illinois’ auditor general has criticized the Pritzker administration’s efforts to protect vulnerable residents in the care of the state, putting Pritzker, the Democratic governor, on the defensive as he seeks a second term in November. The office previously lambasted Pritzker’s public health department for its response to a deadly 2020 coronavirus outbreak at the state-run veterans’ home in LaSalle.
The DCFS audit, which covered the 2020 calendar year, found numerous flaws in the agency’s efforts to provide and track services for child victims of abuse and neglect. According to Auditor General Frank Mautino’s report, these included failing to carry out required home security checks when children are returned to their parents and ensuring that children receive appropriate medical checks and vaccinations.
The agency also failed more than half the time to properly document that support services were provided for the required six months after the children were reunited with their families, according to the report.
The audit also found that the agency’s records system was unable to track or identify cases falling under recent state law governing how DCFS handles calls from legally mandated journalists, such as teachers.
In these cases, where the information provided does not trigger a full abuse or neglect investigation, but the family has already had contact with the child protection system, the agency is expected to refer the family to appropriate services. If the family refuses to cooperate, the law requires the DCFS to open an investigation.
Cook County Public Warden Charles Golbert, whose office represents more than 7,000 children involved in the child welfare system, said he “expects disaster (from the audit), and it’s even worse than a disaster.” Golbert earlier this year told the Tribune that the agency was “in the worst shape for 30 years.”
The 21% vacancy rate for funded DCFS positions cited in the report likely contributes to the agency’s inability to complete basics such as the security checklist, he said.
DCFS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the agency’s staffing levels have improved since the period covered by the audit, with only about 3% of budgeted positions vacant as of this month- this.
Throughout the report, the Auditor General notes that DCFS’s record-keeping system was “unreliable” or otherwise unable to track certain aspects of the care of children in the agency’s jurisdiction.
At best, DCFS has a poorly maintained records system and while work is being done to keep children safe, it’s not well documented, said Heidi Dalenberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, who sued a lawsuit against the agency in 1988. resulting in a federal consent decree under which DCFS still operates.
At worst, essential work mandated by state law and agency regulations, including providing children with adequate health care, is not being done, Dalenberg said.
“I have to fall on the pessimistic side,” Dalenberg said. “If the auditor could not find sufficient information to answer these questions, how are line managers supposed to find information and how are they supposed to do their job effectively?”
McCaffrey said the agency “has taken aggressive steps to improve the services and care provided to youth in care over the past three years,” including training “thousands of workers.”
“DCFS had previously identified that its outdated data tracking systems were limiting its ability to keep up with new requirements,” McCaffrey said. “As a result, DCFS had already taken significant steps to address these issues, including a complete replacement of the department’s child welfare information systems.”
In its written response to the audit, DCFS said its system could in fact track security ratings and that the agency’s review showed a “dramatic increase” in service referrals under the law. But as the information was provided after the conclusion of the Auditor General’s review, this claim could not be independently verified and will be reviewed in a future audit, according to the report.
But the report also found that data issues were also hampering the department’s tracking of routine medical care, particularly around mandatory vaccinations. The auditors found that the information gathered was so unreliable that they were unable to complete their review.
As for other routine health care, a review of 50 cases found that 18% of children had missed at least one physical exam over a five-year period, while 88% had missed at least one dental exam.
McCaffrey said the agency said it has moved most of the children in its care to a new managed care organization that offers better aftercare capabilities and has “helped ensure that all young people in care receive their visits/checkups including physical exams, vision and hearing screenings and dental exams.
“By relying on data from an outdated system and not reviewing other files or data from our care management partner, this audit does not accurately reflect the care young people are receiving,” said McCaffrey.
Pritzker has been committed throughout his tenure to addressing longstanding issues at the beleaguered DCFS. He increased funding for the agency and increased hiring, but also said it would take both more resources and more time to turn the agency around.
“Since taking office, the governor has increased DCFS’s budget by more than $340 million, launched aggressive recruiting efforts to recruit 860 additional employees, and overhauled the inadequate training system inherited from the previous administration.” , Pritzker spokesman Alex Gough said in a statement.
The governor has also backed his hand-picked director, Marc Smith, even as Smith has been held in contempt of court nine times in recent months for the agency’s failure to find suitable placements for the children she has. load.
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, a leading contender for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the June 28 primary, said in a statement Thursday that Pritzker was responsible for the problems at DCFS and the Home of the LaSalle veterans whom recent audits have exposed.
“Pritzker’s manifest failure to manage critical state agencies has resulted in critical damage, whether it’s the preventable deaths of our nation’s heroes in state-run veterans homes or neglect and abuse of the most vulnerable children in state care,” Irvin said.
“His repeated refusal to fire DCFS Director Smith after nine contempt orders is causing irreparable damage. We need new leadership that will prioritize those who need the state and rely on it to survive,” Irvin said.
Golbert, whose office filed the nine cases that led to the contempt orders, said three children were appropriately placed and six cases remain pending.
Some of the agency’s turmoil dates back more than three decades to the ACLU lawsuit that led to the federal consent decree. Steady improvement in the 1990s stalled as the agency went through 14 different leaders from 2003 to 2019.
Under the previous administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, DCFS eliminated 500 residential beds as placements in the name of prioritizing specialty foster care, but the department lacked investment in the latter to support the care system. child protection.
While DCFS shortcomings appear to be troubling Pritzker on the campaign trail, his office has injected a bit of politics into its own response, noting that its additional investments in the agency “have happened without the support of Republicans in the General Assembly. , even after the department had been systematically gutted and underfunded for years.