Local Editorials | Northwest Herald

DCFS failure unacceptable, but seemingly unalterable

Don’t hold your breath waiting for major improvement at the state’s child-welfare agency.

Back in May, a state audit of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services revealed poor performance that puts the health and safety of children at risk.

“But what else is new?” a Champaign News-Gazette editorial asked at the time.

The answer then was just as obvious as it is now.

Nothing. It’s business as usual. What’s the problem?

That “what, me worry?” attitude became clear last week when legislators called DCFS Director Marc Smith in for one of his regular rhetorical floggings about his agency’s consistently shoddy performance.

Responding to suggestions that DCFS is less than what it could and should be, Smith blithely responded that his agency is “one of the best child-welfare systems in the country.”

At first blush, that is a shocking response. Then again, by what measure is Smith judging his agency against child-protection units in the other 49 states?

Are they so bad that Illinois looks good by comparison?

Whatever the circumstances, DCFS clearly needs to step up its game.

There’s no question that child-protection workers face daunting challenges in their efforts to deal with often dysfunctional, dangerous, impoverished and desperate families and children.

The volume of difficult cases they deal with make it a mathematical certainty that child-protection workers will make mistakes. In their business, mistakes generate fatalities.

But consider this: It seems like every other day, Smith is held in contempt of court as a consequence of DCFS failing to deliver required services to children. For example, how many kids have been – and continue to be – left in mental-health facilities instead of being placed in foster care?

DCFS workers are failing on a massive scale to provide home safety checks and screenings for child health, vision and dental needs.

Republican legislators last week were making the most noise about DCFS. State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, told Smith his characterization of DCFS as one of the nation’s best child-protection organizations was “delusional.”

This is an election year, and the audit didn’t reflect well on the Pritzker administration’s oversight of DCFS. That’s probably why the Democrats held their tongues, even though there’s no good reason for them to remain silent.

The fact is DCFS has been a bipartisan disaster for years. Illinois is failing too many of the children who most need help and protection, and the people in charge have shown over the years that they don’t know what, if anything, to do about it.

– Champaign News-Gazette