CHICAGO (AP) - A sharply critical report from a court-appointed panel concludes that bureaucracy and other problems plague the quality of care an Illinois agency offers to around 14,000 children.
The head of the Department of Children and Family Services responded on Friday that he accepts all the report’s finding and recommendations.
The report filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago this week stems from civil litigation that goes back 25 years. It includes a longstanding consent decree mandating that the agency provide juveniles adequate care - even amid the current state budget crisis.
The 50-year-old agency has gone from being in the vanguard nationally on child welfare care to having “profound difficulties implementing and sustaining policy initiatives and programs,” the report says.
The agency has become increasingly unwieldy and its decision-making processes too cumbersome, according to the 29-page report, which was filed Thursday.
“Such ‘over-bureaucratization’ leads to risk-adverse, compliance-oriented accountability … rather than results-oriented accountability that keeps the focus on children.” The report adds that initiatives are often “shaped by crises, practitioner preferences, tradition and system expediency.”
Acting Director George H. Sheldon described the report as “thoughtful, concise and thorough,” in response to a request for comment from The Associated Press. Sheldon, appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in February, added he “accepts its findings and recommendations.”
“I have observed many of the same issues … and we have already begun implementing changes that will better serve our children in care and streamline the bureaucratic process,” he said in a statement emailed to the AP.
The report’s headline recommendation is for the appointment of independent monitors who would report to the court rather than to the DCFS director.
DCFS’s had opposed that recommendation, the report’s four authors said in a letter earlier this week to Judge Jorge Alonso. But DCFS spokeswoman Veronica Resa said Friday the agency now accepts the recommendation that any new monitors report to the court.
American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represents those who sued, recently requested the report out of concern the DCFS wasn’t complying with the consent decree.
“This report is a clarion call for change- real change within DCFS,” said Benjamin Wolf, the associate legal director of the group.
The report said high turnover in recent years in the director’s office also hampered the reform process.
“Even very basic functions, such as … case management, grind to a halt … until the workforce learns of the priorities of a new Director,” the report says.
The report also said the agency doesn’t move swiftly enough to get children out of institutional facilities and into homes or less-restrictive settings, saying that “leads to feelings of demoralization and helplessness.”
Much of the report focuses on children with psychological and developmental problems.
It adds that delays in investigations and in deciding how to handle alleged victims of abuse - a problem the report said was especially acute in Cook Cook - also has long-term consequences.
“For children, especially infants and preschoolers, months can be a lifetime developmentally, especially when there is uncertainty about their future,” the report says.
It recommends that DCFS look to Arizona and Los Angeles County as models, saying welfare services there offer intensive home- and community-based services for children with mental health issues “on-demand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
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