Republicans call for DCFS audit as child deaths add up
In the wake of several child deaths — including Peoria boy Navin Jones — Republican lawmakers on Wednesday called for a performance audit of the state child welfare agency.
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had extensive involvement in Navin’s life — from the day he was born up until the day he died, records show. DCFS was in the process of facilitating a transfer of guardianship for Jones in the weeks before he was found unresponsive inside his parents’ Center Bluff home. The Peoria County coroner called it one of the worst cases of abuse he'd ever seen.
At least five youth in DCFS care, including Navin, have died since last December.
Republican lawmakers said the focus of the audit will be to reevaluate cases and examine changes DCFS has made to prevent the deaths of youth in the future. They allege chronic mishandling of child abuse cases, including Navin’s.
State Rep. Chris Bos, R-Lake Zurich, said he believes DCFS is letting children with red flags in their case files slip through the cracks.
“This audit is needed to shed more light on why reports that include descriptions like sickly or malnourished, or points to clear signs of bruises, and ligature marks are being ignored by supervisors. Let's get this information. And let's finally do something,” said Bos.
Rep. Tom Weber, R-Fox Lake, said DCFS ignores some families and falsely accuses others.
Weber said this inconsistency has led to dangerous situations for children.
“I’ve seen cases where a child had a black eye, broken arm, and bruises all over his body. After returning from a visit with his father. The mother had asked for a safety plan and was denied. And I personally know someone whose child had a broken arm, DCFS was called, and they cannot be alone with that child without another adult around. Where is the discrepancy that one case is treated one way, and other cases are treated differently?” asked Weber.
In addition to alleged mishandling of cases on an individual level, Republicans have previously said the department needs top-down reform.
DCFS Director Marc Smith has been found in contempt of court eight times, for failing to comply with court orders. Rep. David Welter, R-Morris said he’s disappointed but not surprised.
“Each of these eight contempt orders represent a real child in the state of Illinois. Our youth in care. Each one of these people had a family. And we failed them as a state,” said Welter. Welter previously predicted that Smith would be charged, which came to pass within two weeks.
Gov. JB Pritzker responded to some concerns about DCFS management during a press conference about renovations to the Illinois State Armory.
“The director is, like me, deeply concerned about the conditions for these children. We’re making sure that we're doing everything that we can with the budgets that we have and the time that we have to make sure that they're getting the services they need,” said Pritzker.
House Republicans have filed a resolution to recommend this audit, which has yet to receive bipartisan support. The resolution does not call for the removal of Smith from the department.
The General Assembly adjourns session this Friday, which means the resolution would need support in both the House and the Senate within the next 48 hours in order to be adopted.