- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) Officials of Illinois' family services department were scrambling yesterday to figure out where its much-praised child-welfare system broke down in the case of a 3-year-old boy found chained by the neck to a bedpost.
Critics said the case indicates the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) needs to reduce its reliance on private agencies to watch over children in foster care. One critic said it may be time to split the department into two agencies.
"They need to tear it up and do something new," Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy said. "They are using a model that was developed in the 1890s and hasn't been changed since."
In 2000, DCFS became only the second state child-welfare agency in the country to win national accreditation from the New York-based Accreditation for Children and Family Services, a group that "champions quality services for children, youth and families." At the time, David Lieberman of the accreditation group declared: "Illinois is setting the pattern for the rest of the country."
But a drug raid Saturday on a home in Chicago's South Side led to the discovery of a foster child chained to a bed. The chain was wrapped around his neck and held in place with a padlock. The boy wore a soiled diaper wrapped in a plastic bag.
According to police, the boy's foster mother, Mary Bryant, 64, said he was chained because he stole food.
Miss Bryant and the boy's foster father, Melvin Bond, 49, were charged with child endangerment. Melinda Bryant, 29, Mary Bryant's daughter, was charged with child endangerment as well as weapon and drug offenses.
DCFS had been relying on at least two private agencies to supervise the care of foster children in the couple's home.
The boy and four other children living in the home, ranging in age from 3 to 11, were taken into state custody after the discovery.
"Everything we have achieved in the last eight years has disintegrated before our very eyes," said DCFS Chief of Staff Martha Allen. "No one case should define an agency that has gone from having 51,000 children in foster care eight years ago to 23,000."
DCFS carefully checks the backgrounds of foster parents and the private agencies, Miss Allen said.
"Our top private agencies dealt with the case," she said. "The public guardian checked the home in December. They were all there, and none of them caught what was going on there."
Naomi Jennings, executive director of one of those agencies, Youth Empire Services, said her organization supervised the foster care of the 3-year-old boy. She said the boy never indicated there was a difficulty in the home.
Moreover, "The foster parent never indicated there was a problem," Miss Jennings said. "If she had, there are services that could have been put in place to eliminate any problem she had been having. The home was clean. It was appropriate."
Catholic Charities was assigned to supervise the care of another foster child in the home. But at least three foster children were placed in the home: a 3-year-old girl by Catholic Charities, the chained boy and his 7-year-old sister by Youth Empire Services.
Neither of the private organizations knew the other was supervising the care of children in the same home.
"The extent the department relies on private agencies is a problem," says Bruce Boyer, director of Loyola University's Child Law Clinic. "The department doesn't do a good job of quality control."

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