DCFS defends reporting

Illinois Capitol News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — The Department of Children and Family Services is facing heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and child advocates for lack of transparency.

DCFS Director Beverly Walker continues to blame lacking child abuse data on technical errors from decades old software. Coincidentally, hours before testifying in front of a Senate budget committee Tuesday, the department released the first public child abuse/neglect report in nine months. They say the problem has been fixed.

Walker says DCFS has no problem being transparent moving forward and says the updated reports are more accurate, but child advocates want the commitment in writing. They’re pushing a bill to make monthly reporting mandatory, something that, before last year July, was the norm for more than 30 years.

Foster Care Alumni of America Illinois Chapter President James McIntrye continues to be a vocal critic of the department. For months he’s filed FOIA requests asking for child abuse statistics. He says some of his requests have gone unanswered, making it difficult for him and other organization leaders to do their jobs.

“This information shouldn’t have to be bureaucratically sought it should be publicly allowed for criticism..it comes down to are we paying for what we should be paying for.”

The child abuse neglect numbers are compiled from the state’s child abuse hotline. New numbers reveal the rate of abuse calls are up. DCFS and McIntrye agree the state’s opioid epidemic plays a role. 

Walker says the epidemic is something the agency is working to address but says she sees it like any other substance abuse problem and doesn’t want to divert attention away from the slew of other abuse factors.

At Tuesday’s budget hearing, Walker asked for more DCFS funding for FY19. Walker says one of their main focuses is beefing up staff to handle case loads. The department has seen a mass exodus of employees the past ten years and high rates of turnovers. 

Their budget request also included some notable changes that left some lawmakers weary, one of those, a 4% decreased rate for providers. The budget also includes less money for foster care. Those dollars would be shifted to adoptive services. The department is investing more than $10 million more towards helping more children find permanent homes.

McIntrye says he applauds the Rauner Administration for this effort but says they still have a ways to go to improve their performance outcome. 

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