When kids are dying, how could Gov. Pritzker fail to mention DCFS in his big speech?

How many more children must die before DCFS gets the attention, resources and commitment it deserves?

SHARE When kids are dying, how could Gov. Pritzker fail to mention DCFS in his big speech?
Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

In his State of the State address last week, it was disappointing that Gov. J.B. Pritzker never once mentioned what is arguably the state’s most important, and most troubled, agency.

I’m referring to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which is charged with caring for 17,000 children who have been removed from their families due to abuse or neglect.

It’s nice to hear that the governor is opposed to the corruption that is rampant in our state.It’s also fine that he touted his accomplishments during his first year in office.

But to not even mention as important and dysfunctional an agency as DCFS?

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I was hoping to hear a resolve to take on the problems that plague the agency, similar to his pledge to fight corruption.Consider the following:

·According to DCFS’s inspector general, 123 children died between July 2018 and June 2019 even though DCFS had involvement with those children during the prior year.These include the well-publicized deaths of AJ Freund, killed by his parents when he was five, and Jahir Gibbons, beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend when she was two.Sadly, this intolerable situation should not be surprising considering that DCFS remains out of compliance with caseload standards for its investigators under a decades-old federal consent decree.

·Also according to the DCFS inspector general, another 56 children died between July and December 2019 despite DCFS involvement during the prior year.Most significantly, this period covers the second six months of Pritzker’s first year in office.

·Over the past year DCFS had to delay, twice, the transfer of all of its children to a Managed Care Organization for their medical care due to chaos, confusion, a woefully inadequate provider network, lack of an appeals process that complies with state law and many other problems.The transfer is now scheduled to happen on April 1, but none of these problems have been resolved.Many of the impacted children have complex medical needs, and disruption of their medical care could be devastating.

·Last summer my office learned that children in DCFS care were sleeping on the floors in DCFS offices instead of in a warm, comfortable bed in an appropriate placement.My office had to sue DCFS in July to get information about the extent of the problem.Pursuant to documents obtained through the lawsuit, we learned that this has happened to dozens of children throughout the state.

·Last fall my office learned that DCFS was shackling dozens of children by their hands and legs, with no possible safety or clinical justification, when transporting them to new placements.In my three decades of doing this work I have never before heard of such a thing.These children are in DCFS care because they were born to abusive or neglectful parents, not because they are criminals.Most remarkably, in DCFS’s contract with the private bus company involved, DCFS delegated authority to the bus drivers to decide when to shackle kids.

·DCFS continues to allow its children to languish for weeks and months in locked psychiatric hospitals after they are ready for discharge because DCFS has nowhere to place them.This happens to more than 300 children every year.Children also languish for months in shelters, again due to DCFS’s severe shortage of placements.

·Two reports came out last year about the failures of DCFS’s child abuse hotline.Nearly half of callers have to leave messages and wait days for a callback.The hotline is supposed to be the first line of defense to protect children who are being abused.

All this, and not a single mention in the State of the State address?

Is DCFS not on this administration’s radar?Does anyone care about these children?How many more children must die before DCFS gets the attention, resources and commitment it deserves?

Our children deserve better.

Charles Golbert is the Cook County Public Guardian.His office represents approximately 6,000 children in abuse and neglect cases in the Cook County Juvenile Court.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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