Columns

Eye On Illinois: Another perspective on DCFS sheds light on complexity, challenge

There are two sides to every story. At least.

Wednesday’s column included thoughts about structural problems with the Department of Children and Family Services from McHenry County Board Vice Chairwoman Carolyn Schofield, running mate of GOP gubernatorial candidate and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo.

Among the ideas she emailed: “Develop a system that is child-centered rather than focused on family reunification. The child should have rights. Currently parental rights trump those of the child.”

That thought echoed when I encountered the work of Dorothy Roberts, a University of Pennsylvania law, sociology and civil rights professor who has written extensively about the child protection system. Among those works is “Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare,” which she wrote 20 years ago while on the Northwestern University faculty.

While impossible to summarize her extensive writings in this short space, Roberts makes compelling arguments for promoting family unity and frames her proposals around addressing poverty. She said neglect drives children into foster care twice as often as physical abuse and suggests investing in broader welfare programs in favor of an approach that removes children from their homes and in many cases moves to terminate parental rights, “freeing” children for adoption.

We can look no further than the pages of this newspaper for examples of how the state failed children and families from a variety of circumstances and in myriad ways, and in those stories and countless others are the threads of truth that inform the broader talking points framing political debate. We can fail children by allowing them to stay in a home with neglectful parents. By removing them from a mother who called police to report an abusive partner. By ignoring obvious signs of physical or mental distress. By sending them to facilities where they’re expected to conform instead of heal.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Schofield or Roberts, and presume they both simply want what is best for children. But it doesn’t take deep thought to realize the difficulties of crafting systemic solutions for problems at the individual family level.

Lest this be perceived as critical of Schofield, here’s a full endorsement of words from her email I didn’t share Wednesday:

“One of the biggest concerns I have had is that everyone is proposing their own solution and when we have asked them to work together, they just want their proposal heard,” she wrote. “Instead of legislators having these conversations, we should elevate the conversations with the foster families, advocates and children that have been affected by the deficiencies of our system and use their recommendations derived from actual experience to provide the solutions.”

Lawmakers alone rarely solve anything. The best ones realize this and act accordingly.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.