DCFS Failed To Protect More Than 200 Children In 11 Years
By Samantha Abernethy in News on Sep 24, 2012 10:00PM
Between 2000 and 2011, more than 200 at-risk children involved with the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services died, according to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune. As the state moves ahead with plans to lay off 400 DCFS employees, the Tribune discovered the agency is already understaffed and poorly trained leading to "systemic failing."
To make matters worse, the Tribune found that some workers "made serious errors, broke rules or falsified case notes." Each death is investigated by the agency's Inspector General, but the information is not all made public.
"DCFS tries to explain these (failures) by isolating the problem to an individual worker instead of looking at the bigger picture," Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris said. "But, if your caseloads are too high, and you have poorly trained workers dealing with extremely complex cases and issues, that's a systemic failing."
DCFS officials have moved to try to reduce caseloads, close overdue investigations and unclog the state's child abuse hotline — shortcomings reported by the Tribune in recent months. Every death, they say, is troubling, and if worker error is to blame, appropriate discipline is pursued.
The Tribune compared notes from the DCFS reports to hospital records to find faces to put to the cases making for a heartbreaking feature.
Governor Pat Quinn was the target of a rally last week at the Thompson Center, in which hundreds of union members called on Quinn to stop the layoffs. He turned it around on the unions saying it's their fault for opposing his plan to close prisons and shunt $57 million in savings back to DCFS. It sounds like Quinn is holding DCFS as leverage, but the layoffs could be unavoidable. Quinn needs legislative approval to close the prisons, but lawmakers won’t meet again to consider that issue until after Oct. 1 — the date DCFS layoffs are slated to occur.