OIG report shows persistent problems for Illinois’ child welfare agency


(The Center Square) – A report on the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for 2023 shows a year’s worth of issues within the troubled agency.

According to the recently released Office of Inspector General report, investigators opened 768 general investigations and 160 investigations of child deaths. They also conducted 7,276 searches for criminal background information.

The issues have not stopped, as a January 2023 report released by the Illinois Inspector General revealed that in 2022, nearly 50 more children died while on the radar of DCFS than in 2021.

The deaths of children listed in the most recent OIG report show a range of different ages and causes. One shows a 24-year-old mother who found her 4-year-old unresponsive. The pathologist reported the child had cocaine in her system, and the amount was more than twice the dose that would be fatal for a healthy adult. The 4-year-old was first put on the agency’s radar when she was just 9 months old.

Another shows a 19-month-old child who was transported by ambulance to the hospital after she was found bleeding from the mouth and unresponsive while in the care of her father’s 20-year-old paramour. Hospital personnel observed bruising on the side of the child’s face and body in various stages of healing. This child’s death came 17 months after showing up on the radar of DCFS.

State Rep. David Friess, R-Red Bud, told The Center Square that the agency needs to do what they are responsible for.

“Here we have children that die in DCFS care that are injured, for all purposes tortured, and many suffer from malnutrition,” Friess said. “There is less than adequate supervision over these kids that are in DCFS care.”

A total of 36 child deaths listed in the OIG report are classified as homicides. Of those 36, 27 are from gunshot wounds and six are from other forms of physical abuse. Five deaths were classified as suicide in the manner of death, three by hanging and two by drug overdoses.

Friess said the job of child welfare is demanding, but that should not be used as an excuse.

“It is a very demanding and tasking job, but it is their job,” Friess said. “Just because it is hard does not mean you can neglect your duties to oversee and care for these kids.”

DCFS received $1.8 billion in 2023 from Illinois taxpayers. Friess discussed whether funding should be diverted while issues are fixed.

“I would be hesitant in withholding funds,” Friess said. “If you withhold funds, DCFS employees will not get paid. They will go elsewhere, and the problems will worsen.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently announced that Heidi Mueller, who served as director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, will replace DCFS Director Marc Smith.

“The work Director Mueller has done at the Department of Juvenile Justice over the last several years has been transformative for the juvenile justice system in Illinois, and I am thrilled that she will bring her unique experience and talents to DCFS,” Pritzker said.

Smith was to retire on Dec. 31 but will stay on through the rest of this month. He has been in the position since 2019 and has been held in contempt of court several times for issues regarding the late placement of children.

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