In the wake of the Semaj Crosby tragedy that has put his agency in an unwanted spotlight, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s head of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is expected to be in Florida later this month to discuss a child-welfare CEO opening there, a DCFS spokesman said.
“I don’t know if I would call it an interview, but he’s certainly meeting with them,” said Neil Skene, DCFS’ senior deputy director for strategy and performance.
Skene said his boss, George Sheldon, had been approached “within the last month” about the opening at Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc. “This came along. [Sheldon] is from Florida. It’s a chance to go back there,” Skene said, adding, “This is not a commitment. He’s talking.”
The development came as Illinois lawmakers grilled Sheldon regarding Semaj, the baby girl who was found dead in a Joliet Township house that DCFS had visited the day before. Semaj was reported missing shortly after the DCFS visit on April 25 and was found dead under a couch in the house shortly before midnight on April 26.
DCFS reported there were no obvious signs of abuse or neglect involving Semaj and her two brothers on April 25. But the Will County sheriff’s office said the home was in “deplorable” condition after they found Semaj about 33 hours later.
Sheldon testified before a state Senate appropriations panel on Wednesday that investigators don’t remove children from homes just because the residences are dirty.
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Authorities, including a Will County judge, have questioned why DCFS appears to have missed signs of trouble in the house. Sheldon promised to release records to the public if his agency’s investigation shows the girl died at the hands of a caregiver.
Sheldon not only is facing scrutiny from lawmakers and the public but also from two state agencies whose mission is to root out problems within DCFS and state government, respectively.
DCFS Inspector General Denise Kane told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday afternoon that her office and the Office of the Illinois Executive Inspector General have opened a joint investigation into some of the agency’s actions under Sheldon. A representative for the OEIG did not respond to requests for comment.
Though Kane would not disclose specifics, she said that, along with the joint investigation, there are “several other investigations into other matters.”
Those inquiries, she said, have been “submitted but they’re still pending.”
In the first full year of Sheldon’s leadership, the DCFS inspector general investigated 24 allegations of misconduct, according to Kane’s most recent annual report.
In four of those incidents, DCFS rejected some or all of the IG’s recommendations. For Kane, that was a change in attitude compared to previous DCFS administrations.
“I think you can say there was a little shift in how much oversight they welcomed,” Kane said. “That’s the first time that’s ever happened.”
Of those 24 allegations, nine concerned the falsification of records.
Sheldon was appointed to his position by Gov. Bruce Rauner in February 2015.
He ran Florida’s Department of Children and Families from 2008 through 2011. From 2011 to 2013 under then-President Barack Obama, he was acting assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ agency for Children and Families.
He ran an unsuccessful campaign for Florida’s attorney general in 2014, losing to Republican incumbent Pam Bondi.
In March 2016, about 13 months after his appointment, Rauner praised Sheldon’s leadership of the department.
“When I took office, DCFS was in shambles from a lack of leadership and direction,” Rauner was quoted as saying. “Today, under the direction of Director George Sheldon, the agency has made an impressive transformation to ensure we are protecting our state’s most vulnerable children.”
Sheldon’s appointment came after a period of extreme turmoil in the Illinois agency. In January 2015, Director Bobbie Gregg announced she would leave the post, and Sheldon became the fifth DCFS director in less than a year and a half.
Asked about his career prospects by lawmakers on Wednesday, Sheldon was blunt in saying he has not ruled anything out. He also said he has a job offer in southern California.
“I do think they’re options I need to consider,” he added, also noting his DCFS post “is the toughest job I’ve ever had.”
Keith Ward, chairman of the board for Our Kids, said he plans to sit down with Sheldon when he’s in Florida.
“The board this morning has authorized me to talk to him, to negotiate with him and make him an offer,” said Ward of the job that paid its most recent CEO $200,000 annually.
Contributing: Associated Press