“Rebuilding the child welfare system in Illinois is not a single nor simple task; it requires innovation and a commitment to hard work.”
I don’t expect everyone to read each installment of Eye on Illinois, nor to take what the governor says at face value. But follow-through is in order after Saturday’s column about the ongoing trial of a Department of Children and Family Services child protection specialist and his supervisor due to their connection with the late AJ Freund (shawlocal.com/tags/aj-freund).
Ten days before the trial started, Gov. JB Pritzker touted the release of the Child Welfare Insights Tool, which according to a news release, marked the first near real-time public access to information DCFS administrators use. There are daily updates. Data is sorted by county or statewide, framed by either the prior 30 days or 12 months.
Available points include:
- The number of abuse and neglect reports filed, including response time;
- Percentages of youths under agency care who have either met with medical teams or enrolled in developmental programs; and
- Engagement activities, including breakdowns of caseworkers’ family interactions with frequency and method.
The point here isn’t praising DCFS or the governor. With an admitted personal bias toward always increasing public access to government information, the actual intent is encouraging readers to spend time with the portal. Learn the numbers in your region. Look for trends. Ask your lawmakers how they perceive the information. If they don’t have a ready response, press the issue. After all, if Joe Taxpayer can take time to wade through, why can’t the elected officials?
Pritzker also announced a DCFS partnership with the University of Kentucky’s Center for Innovation in Population Health, which will study an agency widely considered to be failing. Project team leaders include Northwestern University’s Richard Epstein and Tamara Fuller from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A 13-member advisory board, from across the country, will meet quarterly to provide input and help develop recommendations for change.
“An independent, third-party look into the organization and structure of DCFS is long overdue. We owe it to the children served in this long-troubled agency to take a serious look at how the agency can improve,” said state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest. “I appreciate the governor’s office for working with the University of Kentucky to ensure the study is done in such a way that does not allow for interference from those bogged down by political policy and procedure.”
Again, we’re not here to praise. In light of DCFS’ well-documented struggles and shortcomings, trying to right the ship is the least anyone can do. Knowing some sort of strategy exists is a comfort, but only for those lacking firsthand experience of the tragedy a failed system guarantees.