By CHRIS FUSCO AND TONY ARNOLD
Lawmakers need to address the rising number of children who are dying from abuse and neglect in Illinois and also what more can be done to prevent deaths of children who have come onto the radar of state child-welfare workers, a key legislator said Friday in response to a Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ investigation.
“What you have brought up here shows us there’s a great need to redouble our efforts to work on protection of kids,” said state Rep. Greg Harris, who chairs the House Appropriations-Human Resources Committee.
“Clearly, one death, one serious injury, is one too many, and there seems to be room for improvement.”
Denise Kane, the Department and Children and Family Services’ inspector general, offered her own suggestions Friday for improving child safety — calling for fixes including better coordination between police and child-welfare workers and shifting the hours that DCFS investigators work so they can have more interaction with families.
“The department still doesn’t have a liaison with the Chicago Police Department so that we can work together,” Kane said. “That’s insane.”
She pointed to the death of Christopher Valdez, a 4-year-old boy from Gage Park on the city’s Southwest Side who was beaten to death in 2011 by his mother’s boyfriend. Shortly before his death, the police had arrested his mother for beating him, and she was convicted. But DCFS and the courts allowed Christopher to resume living with her even though other family members said they were willing to care for him.
Kane described the lack of communication between the police and DCFS on the Valdez case as “wrong.” A spokesman for the police department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
She also said DCFS needs to stagger child-protection investigators’ work shifts so more can be on the job evenings and nights, when families are home.
“I don’t understand this 8:30 to 5, not when you’re dealing with families,” she said. “Working-class families, they ain’t home until after 5.”
Her statements came before Gov. Pat Quinn announced Calica’s resignation Friday afternoon. The governor’s office said Calica “has been diagnosed with cancer” and would step down immediately because of the diagnosis.
Analyzing 10 years of Kane’s reports about DCFS-involved abuse and neglect deaths, the Sun-Times and WBEZ found there have been 228 such deaths between July 1, 2002, and June, 30, 2012. The number of deaths more than doubled between 2010 and 2011 — from 15 to 34 — then held steady at 34 in 2012.
Statewide, there were 111 child abuse and neglect death cases in a 12-month period ending in mid-2013, the most in Illinois in 30 years.
Responding to the findings, Harris said: “I’m going to be following up on the investigative pieces that the Sun-Times and WBEZ reported and certainly talk to principals, talk to experts in the field. We very well may have some hearings.”
Chris Fusco is a Sun-Times reporter. Tony Arnold is a reporter for WBEZ.