(SPRINGFIELD) Governor J.B. Pritzker spoke today about the University of Chicago Chapin Hall study he commissioned to dig into the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). The report says DCFS has been burdened by ineffective supervision, significant communication gaps, problems with high risk cases, and a lack of clarity with job roles. Pritzker said, “These challenges are the result of many years of misguided decisions, underdeveloped program roll outs, and unacceptable funding cuts.” The report offers nine recommendations for action, that Pritzker says will be put in place. “I want to be clear. We will be adopting every recommendation in this report with as much expediency as possible,” explained Pritzker. Governor Pritzker has said he would like to increase funding to DCFS by $75 million while adding 126 new case workers.
Locally, Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz says he’s heard it all before. This is the sixth Governor to take office since Umholtz has been State’s Attorney. “In the past there’s been press conferences but there’s no follow through with action,” he explained. When it comes to breaking down the complex system, Umholtz says the issue lies at the base. “We need to find some way in our society to rebuild the family unit,” said Umholtz. He said part of the problem is accessibility. The DCFS local office was across the street from the courthouse, making it easy to build relationships between the courts and clients. Now they are centralized in Peoria where that office serves a much larger area. “If we’re going to have a DCFS, we need to provide those case workers with the resources to do what’s best for that child,” explained Umholtz.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a non-profit group to uses volunteers to support children in the foster care system. Executive Director Pam Perrilles says according to recent data, children in Peoria County without a special advocate are in the system for an average of 39 months. Children with a CASA representative are in the system for an average of 25 months. The difference is over a year in the system for a child without support from an adult. Tazewell County representative Ryan Lacerna says there aren’t enough volunteers for each child to have support they need. In addition, he says case workers for DCFS are bogged down with a huge caseload. “I know that they’re over the maximum. Most of them are over the maximum that they’re allowed to carry,” Lacerna said. Lacerna also said there are over 600 children and families with open cases in Tazewell County, but less than a third have the support they need from CASA or elsewhere. For more information about CASA you can visit their website here.