CHICAGO (CBS) — Overburdened case workers and an unresponsive hotline — those are just two findings of an alarming audit of the Illinois Department of Family Services. CBS 2 has reported 98 children who had prior contact with DCFS died just last year.
CBS 2 political reporter Derrick Blakley spent the day going through the 150 page report.
The Illinois Auditor General’s investigation was ordered after the shocking death of 17-month old Semaj Crosby, found dead days after a DCFS worker visited the family’s Joliet home. The report covers the years 2015 through 2017 and points to an agency understaffed and overwhelmed.
For example, the agency’s hotline, is slow to respond.
“Fifty percent of the hotline calls go into voicemail and need a callback. So for emergency cases where children are really in trouble, that’s a huge problem,” said Illinois State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago.)
Shockingly, crucial interviews came slowly too. In 29% of cases, alleged victims weren’t interviewed within 24 hours. Even more troubling, in 24% of cases, alleged perpetrators weren’t interviewed within seven days.
“Our system has to be more nimble and innovative and accountable to ensure the best outcome each time,” said Illinois State Representative Anna Moeller (D-Elgin.)
Federal court oversight limits new cases for investigators, but DCFS wasn’t following the rules. Seventy-eight percent of investigators were given more than 15 new assignments in a month, a violation. And in 26% of sampled investigations where abuse was confirmed, no services were recommended with no reasons given.
“What that says in normal people talk is we left families alone. We left families stranded. We let that kid know that their voice does not matter, and that, although yes, abuse is wrong, we as a state said it’s OK. We don’t need to offer services. We don’t need to offer support,” said James McIntyre of the Foster Care Alumni of America.
In response, DCFS said it welcomes the Illinois Auditor Genreal’s findings. The agency said it’s already developed new timelines and training for hotline callbacks and it’s developing a new model to identify the best services for families.
Another grim statistic from the audit: Children under age 1 were the most frequent targets of confirmed abuse. That’s 13% of all victims.