CHICAGO (AP) - The state’s troubled child welfare agency has submitted an improvement plan to a judge that details more oversight, pilot programs and training, things that officials said Wednesday will “help transform” the system that serves thousands of Illinois children.
The Department of Children and Family Services filed the plan late Tuesday. It’s part of a decades-old consent decree to improve conditions and follows a lawsuit last year from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois that alleged “dangerously inadequate” care and subsequent suggestions from outside experts.
Problems at the agency, where there have been eight directors in five years, have been well publicized in court documents, legislative panels and news reports. They include deficient care for juveniles suffering from mental health problems, lengthy waiting lists for children who need specialized placements and long stays in temporary shelters.
The ACLU helped negotiate the reforms, which have a more community-based approach than years past and will be put in place over six months. The overhaul includes more standardized monitoring to help determine whether children are doing better and steps to find permanent living arrangements for adolescents who enter state custody at age 12 or older, including reconnecting them with birth families. Other changes involve additional training and coaching for front-line workers and supervisors.
“We’re pleased with the final product and are confident that the plan will help to transform the child welfare system in Illinois and lead to better outcomes for the children and families we serve for years to come,” DCFS spokesman Andrew Flach said.
One goal of the plan is reducing the time that state wards, especially those with serious emotional or behavioral problems, stay at residential centers by moving them into foster care more quickly. Foster parents participating in the test program, which will start in Cook, Kane and Winnebago counties, face stricter requirements, such as at least one foster parent won’t be allowed to work outside the home and no more than two children will be placed in a home.
There’ll also be regular assessments to see how the proposed changes are working, including unannounced and off-hour visits to facilities by monitors.
Agency Director George Sheldon streamlined departments last year at DCFS, which serves about 14,500 children, as a way to ensure more collaboration on cases, particularly for troubled children.
ACLU of Illinois officials called the reforms outlined in the 50-page document an important step.
“This plan is a road map for improving conditions and services for families in Illinois, but the hard work remains ahead in implementation,” legal director Ben Wolf said in a statement.
Follow Sophia Tareen at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen .
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.