SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers on Tuesday criticized the performance of the Department of Children and Family Services, with one senator calling for the agency to be restructured.
“I do not believe anymore that this agency can function as it is currently legislatively comprised,” Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting at the Capitol.
DCFS has recently come under fire for the deaths of several children who were in its care. A report by the Office of the Inspector General found 98 children involved with DCFS have died in the last two years.
Rose also pointed out there have been 11 DCFS directors in eight years.
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the agency is ill-equipped to handle the rural parts of the state, since it lacks child advocacy centers and other resources.
“I think we can all agree there’s a crisis on our hands when it comes to many aspects to what the agency is charged with doing,” Manar said. “We recite the names of dead children in this committee hearing once a year.”
“I would like to see a bill filed that represents what the department needs. If it’s a big number, it’s a big number,” he said.
Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, asked why DCFS continues to license day care facilities that are not under its purview.
“I think the agency certainly has enough to do; we should not be a licensing agent for day cares,” she said.
According to Debra Dyer-Webster, interim director, DCFS has 292 licensing workers in Illinois.
Rose said the agency “has to be turned upside down and reconstituted in a thoughtful way.”
“Let’s sit down and have an honest conversation about breaking up DCFS and reconstituting something that actually works,” he said.
One example Rose cited is DCFS’ aftercare services, which are provided to families after a child is returned to their parents’ home.
“Other agencies in this state deal with aftercare in a much better fashion than DCFS does,” he said. “You’ve been given too many missions to be competent in any of them. The training is atrocious, it’s haphazard, it’s all over the place. Depending on where you were trained, what regional agency you’re in, you get different training and different outcomes.”
Dyer-Webster said she thinks the agency has a “unique opportunity” with Gov. JB Pritzker to make changes.
“He has expressed the same sentiment, and we are ready to work on this,” she said.
Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, said that every time DCFS outsources its services, it is “critical” the agency still has oversight. She also voiced concern whether DCFS has enough resources to do the oversight.
Senate Bill 2162 would give DCFS about $814 million in general funds and more than $437 million in other state funds.
DCFS officials told the Senate committee Tuesday they are requesting $75 million in additional state funding in their budget this year. It’s the biggest increase in over 20 years, Dyer-Webster said.
Part of the agency’s budget proposal includes providing permanent funding to 126 additional staff members, such as caseworkers and investigators.
Another part of the budget provides funding to upgrade DCFS’ technology system, parts of which are 30 years old and “badly in need of an overhaul,” Dyer-Webster said.