CHICAGO (CBS) — The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is in charge of caring for the state’s most vulnerable kids.
On Tuesday, DCFS leaders had to answer tough questions about massive failures inside their agency. CBS 2’s Chris Tye has been investigating the department for years.
DCFS Director, the head of the state’s child welfare department grades his agency as: “One of the best child welfare systems in the country.”
Legislators overseeing DCFS see it differently.
“You are delusional,” said State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Champaign). “The facts are that other states’ directors and agencies don’t get held in contempt of court over 10 times for being non-responsive.”
“Who’s driving this boat here?” asked State Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Sterling). “Who’s supervising? Who’s leading?”
Since December, nine kids on the radar of Illinois DCFS have died.
Several audits of the department reveal glaring problems: 48% of kids that are victims of child abuse or neglect related to substance abuse did not have their cases handed to state’s attorneys for review as they’re supposed to.
In 98% of cases, DCFS was unable to provide home safety checklists and 100% of employees and contractors had no receipt or acknowledgement of DCFS policies.
Employees are handling extra responsibilities as more than 20% of funded positions remain vacant. But the director said they’re getting support.
“I feel very confident in saying that they are getting a level of support they haven’t gotten in years, frankly,” Smith said.
“They can’t handle the caseloads they have. They’re doing the best they can, but they need some help and they need that help from you,” McCombie said.
A report shows, of DCFS kids in care, 18% are missing at least one physical, 14% are in need of at least one vision screening, 56% are missing at least one hearing screening, and 88% are missing at least one dental exam.
“It’s always ‘We don’t have the budget,'” said McCombie. “You can’t keep saying that. At some point, you just gotta figure this out.”
One issue that appears figured out, Smith will remain at the top of the department.
Despite being held in contempt of court 12 times, he told leaders on Tuesday that Gov. JB Pritzker, who hand picked him for the job, indicated he continues to have confidence in him.
The department has been riddled with problems for decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
DCFS cares for over 20,000 children with an annual budget of $1.5 billion.