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DCFS inspector general identifies focus areas to better protect children

DCFS inspector general identifies focus areas to better protect children

‘We need to start by asking staff what they need to do their job,’ Paniak says

By LINDSEY SALVATELLI

Capitol News Illinois

lsalvatelli@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – The statistic is staggering.

Since July, 112 children who were in contact with Department of Children and Family Services personnel have died. 

DCFS inspector general Meryl Paniak on Wednesday identified four starting points for making improvements in protecting children in cases the agency is investigating.

They are safety assessments, training, supervision and manageable caseloads, Paniak told lawmakers in the House Adoptions and Child Welfare Committee.

Supervision is “key,” she said, but it will require updated, recurring training.

“We need to look into the complex need of the families,” Paniak said. “We need to start by asking staff what they need to do their job.”

She said there are 60 job vacancies in DCFS child protection statewide, and 400 of the 1,200 active cases have gone more than 90 days without agency intervention.

“We all know that workforce problems will negatively affect family outcomes,” Paniak said.  “Leaders need to set a vision and drive change for staff. Staff will drive change for families. Families need to change so children can be safe.” 

Marc Smith, acting director of DCFS, said he wanted to be “thoughtful” in his approach to addressing the agency’s deficiencies. 

Smith said he wants to enhance communication methods, and will continue to pursue something that works until a reasonable solution is found.

But Paniak said there’s an urgency, citing the rising number of child deaths around the state. 

During the meeting, lawmakers were reminded of a hotline lawmakers can call about any constituent who approaches them about his or her case. The hotline, 800-232-3798, is open to anyone. They also were told about a new protocol the agency has to respond to calls to the hotline.

“I think it’s important for us to be responsive in a way we haven’t before,” Smith said.

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Jeff Rogers

Jeff RogersJeff Rogers

Jeff has more than 30 years’ experience working for newspapers as a reporter and editor. He was the editor of daily newspapers in northern Illinois and Wisconsin before joining as Capitol News Illinois’ editor, where he oversees the news service’s development, growth and fundraising. He grew up in Lanark in northwest Illinois and has a journalism degree from Bradley University in Peoria.

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