Retired social worker says Illinois DCFS is in worst shape she’s seen in 31 years


CHICAGO (CBS) — For years, we’ve investigated issues within the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services, the agency that cares for the state’s most at-risk children.

We now heard someone who was inside. DCFS social worker Kathy Lane told CBS 2’s Chris Tye it was as bad as she saw it.

She said those knocking on the doors of struggling homes are no longer going with partners as often as they used to – and that puts workers at risk. Workers are also taking on record workloads – and that’s putting children at risk.

With children and workers dying at an alarming rate, there is now a renewed call for change at the top of the state’s child welfare agency.

“This is the worst DCFS we’ve ever seen,” Lane said. “In 31 years, this is the worst I have ever seen.”

Lane was a DCFS social worker, case reviewer and union president before retiring in 2020. She said those who go to the doors of troubled homes cannot cope with an increase in cases.

Last March, DCFS had 8.8% job vacancies. It jumped to 21% in March.

Why can’t the state welfare agency keep its staff?

“People are constantly scared that something is going to happen and then their name is going to be slandered everywhere because a child has died,” Lane said.

Five children on the DCFS radar have died in the past four months.

Now the Cook County public guardian is asking the judge overseeing DCFS to step up enforcement to properly staff them, citing ‘continuing systemic failures’ that include DCFS director Marc Smith, who was recently detained eight times for contempt of court for improper care of children.

The “continuing systematic failures” cited by the Public Guardian also include the fact that a DCFS investigator was killed on the job in January.

“Now that we have two deaths in four years, it’s unjustified,” Lane said.

In January, DCFS investigator Deidre Silas was stabbed while on a home visit in southern Thayer state.

In 2018, DCFS investigator Pamela Knight was attacked while trying to take a child into custody.

Lane is asking for more frontline workers and fewer DCFS administrators. She says the department is very heavy.

She is also quick to blame the practice of social workers being sent to the field without the tools and teammates – a buddy system that was once a regular in high-risk cases.

“They feel like they’re failing, and they’re not,” Lane said. “It is the department that is lacking.

DCFS says they’ve added 12 new investigators since last year, but the number of cases exceeds that. The Cook County Public Guardian says DCFS should have anticipated this trend.

A DCFS spokesperson said the department was “resolving some of the long-standing challenges facing the department after years of neglect.”

We’ve pressed Gov. JB Pritzker repeatedly about how many times Director Smith can be scorned before his job is on the line. H declined to answer.


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