To protect children, do things in the correct order

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The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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So remind us. Which goes first, the horse or the cart?

The cart, of course, if you think as some Springfield lawmakers do.

That’s the only explanation for little-noticed proposed legislation that would move special panels that investigate the deaths of wards of the state from one state agency to another. The idea is to first uproot the panels and then check later to see if it turns out to be a good idea.

You know, putting the cart first. Why explore the idea first to see if it makes sense?

EDITORIAL

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Since 1994, Illinois has had nine obscure “child death review panels” around the state that investigate each time a child dies who is a ward of the state or who has been the subject in the previous year of an investigation by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

The volunteer panels — composed of child care advocates, health professionals, law enforcement personnel who specialize in child safety, a state’s attorney representative and other professionals — examine what may have gone wrong and make recommendations on how to improve the system. Statewide, the panels probe more than 200 cases a year. It’s a system that has worked well, and is an area in which child advocates say Illinois excels.

The legislation, though, would move the independently funded panels from the auspices of DCFS to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That could undermine the effectiveness of the panels.

Under the existing rules, the DCFS director is mandated to meet with panels to discuss any recommendations they have. Relocating the panels would do away with that mandate. The panels’ reports might wind up unread, gathering dust on a shelf.

Daniel Cuneo, a clinical psychologist who chairs the panel that serves the Metro East area, asks why the proposal isn’t carefully studied before making any change. Good question. “Don’t act, then study afterward,” he said.

A hearing on the legislation is scheduled for next week. With any luck, lawmakers will give some thought to getting the horse and the cart in the proper order.

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