Illinois DCFS Needs ‘to Right Two Decades of Wrongs’

Analysis shows spending and personnel woes for state Department of Children and Family Services

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In a 12-month period, 98 children involved in investigations by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services died, according to a previous investigation of the department.

The Center for Illinois Politics, a Chicago-based nonprofit, examined budgetary and personnel data from the troubled agency dating back to 1994.

"They're trying to figure out how to right two decades of wrongs," said Kerry Lester, a veteran journalist-turned-editor for the nonprofit. "That is going to be an issue going forward."

The Center for Illinois Politics found several funding decreases in the agency's $1.3 billion budget for 2020, including "spending on a $14 million decrease on institution and group home care; a $1.5 million decrease in counseling; a $6 million decrease to adoption and guardianship services," according to the report.

A DCFS spokesman said those reductions were "directly related to caseloads and are not driven by spending cuts."

As part of the department's overall $80 million spending increase, the agency is sending an additional $11 million to union members working for the agency for automatic pay hikes. The pay hikes come after Gov. J.B. Pritzker's decision to give the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 members step increases that were contested in court by former governor Bruce Rauner, who had argued the General Assembly never appropriated the funds to pay for those raises.

"$11 million is about one-eighth [of total increased spending] but it should still be noted," Lester said, adding that many of the front-line workers are overloaded and often leave.

A portion of that also goes to cost-of-living increases for caretakers, the report said.

Other increased budget lines include an extra $70 million for foster care services and $11 million to the Family Preservation Program.

Another statistic uncovered by the report shows the revolving door of directors at the agency. Since Sept. 30, 2011, the agency has seen 13 different directors.

"Some of them have only stayed for a few months at a time," Lester said

She expressed optimism for Marc Smith, the agency's newest director, who is still awaiting Senate approval.