- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - The new director of Illinois’ child welfare agency acknowledges the hardships in his job: Looming budget cuts, low staff morale and remaking a troubled department’s image.

But George Sheldon says tactics he used in a similar Florida post, such as finding creative money sources, can help improve things at the Department of Children and Family Services.

Appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the former Democratic state lawmaker is credited with reducing the number of children in Florida’s system. Sheldon, who lost Florida’s 2014 attorney general race, told The Associated Press he’s used to navigating a tough political climate and seeking federal funding in Washington, D.C. He also served acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Administration for Children and Families from 2011-2013.

Here are excerpts from a recent interview:

Q: Why have you traveled to Washington?

A: “Illinois has not fully maximized federal dollars … There are some grant opportunities coming down the pike … We need to be players.”

Q: What types of federal funding are applicable?

A: “The way child welfare systems get reimbursed is they get ‘x’ amount of money for every child in care. So there’s really no incentive to keep children out of care … The way the Title IV-E (federal) waiver works is states agree to take a block grant … You can use federal money to provide services in the home, rather than bringing the child into care. … It is also … a gamble because you’re betting you can reduce the population of kids in care.

Florida got the only statewide waiver (in 2006). We were able to reduce children out of home care by 37 percent. Not because we necessarily brought fewer kids into care because we dealt with the issue in the home. We cut in length the time the child was in care … to 7 months. In Illinois, you’ve got the longest length of stay at 33 months.”

Q: Other priorities?

A: “We’re relying too heavily on deep-end residential beds … That’s the way Illinois has built its system, $127,000 per year per child (for residential treatment facilities) … That’s where you’re supposed to stabilize a child and then step them down … You can do community-based therapeutic foster care with extensive wrap around services around the needs of that child. Not only is it cheaper, it’s much better for the child.

I asked them to do assessment of every child who’d been in a deep-end placement for over a year. That was 566 kids … 142 of them had a treatment plan … that basically recommended this child be stepped down to more of a community placement.”

Q: Why isn’t it happening?

A: “We’ve got to build capacity … We’ve got to be more innovative about finding these alternative placements … We have 3,000 licensed foster placements without a child. Now some of those are parents who may have gotten licensed but are no longer interested.

I happen to think data will drive the system … I want to be able to drive down with the click of a button and see what the length of stay is by provider by geographic area. I want us to put that out on the Internet, not Intranet … When we did that in Florida … providers begin to compete with each other for quality measurements and it really did drive the system.”

Q: Did Rauner outline his vision?

A: “He basically said, ‘We need to right the ship and I’m looking for leadership and I’ll support you.’ The only agreement I made with him was, ‘I won’t blindside you.’”

Q: Do you agree with Rauner’s budget-cutting approach?

A: “Either you do it this year or you face the bridge maybe three or four years from now and it’s only going to get worse.”

Q: You’re credited in Florida with helping expand adoption opportunities for gay parents. Rauner won’t discuss his stance on gay marriage. Did that come up?

A: “We did not talk about that … He did tell me he was a fiscal conservative, but progressive on most social issues … You’ve got a lot of people who are demagoguing that issue and he’s not doing that … That’s significant.”

Q: How is staff morale?

A: “Staff morale is in the dirt … I’m surprised people have survived with seven directors in the last four years.”

Q: How do you improve it?

A: “When I got here I had 19 deputies … The first thing I did was consolidate.

I got several emails when I got here … one suggested, ‘Can we bring back the old suggestion box?’ And I said, ‘That’s a good idea.’ We rolled out on our Intranet a site called ‘Ask The Director.’

There’s no guarantee I’m going to be successful here … There’s a lot of righting the ship that needs to take place.”

___

Follow Sophia Tareen at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide