By Cassie Buchman, The State Journal-Register
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services did not always follow proper procedures and lacked timeliness in conducting abuse and neglect investigations from 2015 to 2017, according to a state auditor general’s report.
During the timeframe covered in the audit released Tuesday, the number of abuse and neglect investigations increased by almost 11 percent, going from 67,732 to 75,037.
Also increasing was the number of times the DCFS child abuse hotline was unable to accept calls and required an employee to call back the complainant. The auditor general’s report states DCFS did not have written procedures regarding their callback process for abuse and neglect reports.
The amount of callbacks accounted for 39.6 percent of total calls in fiscal year 2015 and grew to 55.7 percent in FY17.
Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said the amount of hotline calls that go to voicemail is “a huge problem.”
Other points in the auditor general’s report show there are other issues, too, she said.
“There’s every indication here that there are problems,” said Feigenholtz, who announced the formation of a new legislative caucus for DCFS child welfare reform
Feigenholtz said the new caucus is going to look at the auditor general’s recommendations, which include developing written procedures for callbacks, improving the quality of the agency’s data and making sure critical investigations timeframes are completed according to procedures.
In a statement, DCFS director Marc Smith said the agency welcomes the auditor general’s findings and has started moving forward with the recommendations, including hotline callback procedures and implementing new training and procedures to efficiently initiate and close cases.
“Nothing is more important than getting this work right, and the findings show serious lapses and problems,” he said. “While the report covers the period from 2015 to 2017, we believe that the problems plaguing DCFS are deep-seated and have existed for years. Our mission is to take all the necessary steps to overhaul long standing policies and procedures that have failed Illinois’ children, and these recommendations are an important element of our path forward.”
Of the investigations sampled in the audit, 64 percent inaccurately assessed the needs for services. In a review of 150 cases where abuse or neglect was indicated, 26 percent of cases were classified as not needing services.
James McIntyre, co-founder of the Illinois Chapter of the Foster Alumni of America, said the number of cases not referred to any community resources meant families were left alone.
″(That says) … we left families stranded, we let that kid know 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,’” he said.
The report also found the agency was assigning too many cases to investigators. Nearly 79 percent of investigators had at least one month where they received more than 15 assignments, the audit reported.
That violates a federal decree prohibiting investigators from being assigned more than 12 new abuse or neglect investigations per month for nine months. During the other three months of the year, no more than 15 new investigations per month are allowed.
Recently, DCFS has come under fire for the deaths of several children who had connections with the agency, including 2-year-old Ta’Naja Barnes of Decatur, and AJ Freund, 5, of Crystal Lake.
Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, said the state can’t let one more child suffer the way they did.
“Our main priority must be what is best for the child, even if that means removing him or her from their parents,” she said. “We need to support and improve our foster care system and our adoption care programs. We need to provide appropriate resources so DCFS can do its job.”
This article originally appeared in The State Journal-Register.