GOP asks for a performance audit for state’s child protection agency
Gov. JB Pritzker takes questions Tuesday during a news conference at his Capitol office. He has faced multiple questions this week about the dysfunction at the Department of Children and Family Services. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)
Five child deaths, contempt citations prompt request
By BETH HUNDSDORFER
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – In the wake of the recent deaths of five children who were in contact with the state’s child protection agency and eight contempt citations against the agency’s director, House Republicans on Wednesday asked for a performance audit at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
House Resolution 824 was filed Wednesday, requesting the state’s auditor general audit the agency and create a report that details:
- The types of changes made by DCFS in protocols and training to prevent the deaths of agency-involved children, protect the children in state care, and prevent unnecessary placements of state wards in psychiatric facilities and temporary placements
- The extent of monitoring by DCFS to see if procedures and protocols are effective in the protection of children
- The amount DCFS and other state agencies spent in 2020 and 2021 to address preventable deaths and stays in psychiatric facilities beyond medical necessity and emergency placements
- DCFS’s efforts to comply with court orders holding Director Marc Smith in contempt and the reasons for the repeated contempt citations for failing to properly place DCFS wards
- The amount spent defending legal matters, including efforts to get the agency into court-mandated compliance for failure to properly place wards
During a news conference on Wednesday, the resolution’s sponsors, Reps. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, David Welter, R-Morris, and Chris Bos, R-Lake Zurich, said they want a snapshot of the agency performance over the last two years.
“Kids are in danger across the state. Gov. Pritzker and his party have failed, and they need to correct the situation,” Welter said. “We should not be seeing additional contempt orders. We should move everything we can to help save these kids and protect the youth that's in our care.”
During a simultaneous news conference in his Capitol office, Pritzker pointed to the decimation of the agency by the previous administration by failing to pass a budget to fund DCFS.
“The very people who are holding a press conference downstairs are some of the people who voted with Bruce Rauner to undercut that agency,” Pritzker said. “You need to provide a budget or there is no budget at all for that agency. As a result of that, what I was left with, what the current General Assembly was left with, was a lot of rebuilding that needed to take place. It's not something that you can snap your fingers and have happen overnight.”
But Bos disagreed.
“Director Smith has had three years. He could have came in and been a hero and turned this agency around,” Bos said in an interview after the news conference.
In response to a question about whether Pritzker has confidence in Smith, he said he and the DCFS director are both concerned for child safety.
“The director is, like me, also deeply concerned about the conditions for these children and making sure that we're doing everything we can with the budgets that we have, with the time that we have, to do it as quickly as possible to bring back beds for these kids to make sure that they're getting the services they need,” he said.
A federal judge has scheduled a status hearing for Thursday on the federal lawsuit regarding a 30-year-old consent decree to reduce caseloads, ensure that wards are not improperly held in psychiatric facilities and improve outcomes for state wards.
Thursday is also the day Cook County Juvenile Judge Patrick Murphy holds the “stuck kids” docket.
That’s the docket for kids who are in psychiatric facilities beyond medical necessity or remain in placements despite orders the agency to move them in accordance with DCFS recommendations. Murphy presides over the docket and issued the contempt orders against Smith.
Since December, at least five children have died after contact with the state’s child protection agency. They are Navin Jones, 8, of Peoria; Damari Perry, 6, of North Chicago; Sophia Faye Davis, 1, of Dawson; Zaraz Walker, 1, of Bloomington; and Tamsin Miracle Sauer, 3, of Nelson.
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