Lawmakers question child welfare officials on recent problems

Lawmakers question child welfare officials on recent problems

SPRINGFIELD, IL — The first of several hearings has taken place on the problems plaguing the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  

State Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Oak Park, said the subject matter hearing would be held in the House Appropriations-Human Services Committee amid reported department shortcomings so lawmakers could “form holistic, long-term solutions.”

Some lawmakers during the virtual hearing Friday said issues like children being kept in psychiatric facilities rather than being with families is alarming. The latest is the case of a 13-year-old boy who was held in emergency custody for months despite a judge’s order to move him to a more appropriate setting. Earlier this month a Cook County Judge cited DCFS Director Marc Smith for contempt for failing to relocate the boy to a therapeutic foster home.  

Now there is word that a particular emergency housing facility was the subject of 161 service calls to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department last year. The 12-bed facility near Mount Vernon has a $1.9 million contract to house children in DCFS custody.

During the hearing, state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, highlighted the case of a 7-year-old Oregon, Illinois boy who’s mother is now charged with his murder.

“The child had an established relationship with a foster family where he was safe, where he was cared for and where he was loved, yet was repeatedly moved back to the custody of his mother despite the many, many allegations,” said Demmer.

Smith said caseworkers use one criteria when determining whether to remove a child from a home.

“Making sure that we make decisions for every individual child that we come in contact with based on one thing, are they safe?” said Smith.

State Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, said she is introducing a bill which would create an oversight commission over DCFS.

“I want to see us work together as partners and not make it a finger-pointing thing because we need to get to where our ultimate goal is to help the children in the state of Illinois and the families,” said Willis.

More hearings are sure to come which are expected to deal with DCFS worker safety in the wake of the stabbing death of DCFS investigator Deidre Silas at a home near Springfield January 4. Benjamin Reed, who lived at the house, is facing murder charges in the death.

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