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DCFS audit, 10th contempt ruling prompt Illinois GOP to call for change

Pritzker says stability best for fixing department’s problems
Illinois DCFS Director Marc Smith talks to the Gray TV Illinois Capitol Bureau during a...
Illinois DCFS Director Marc Smith talks to the Gray TV Illinois Capitol Bureau during a sit-down interview last summer.(Mike Miletich)
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 6:50 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Following a 10th contempt of court holding in six months for keeping children in medical facilities longer than necessary, and a state audit finding fault with the department, Illinois House Republicans say it’s time for the director to go.

They say Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith needs to step down or be removed by the governor.

“We’re not seeing progression, we’re seeing regression,” Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) said. “It’s time for Marc Smith to step down since he cannot apparently get this issue under control.”

DCFS has been led by 12 directors over 15 years. Gov. J.B. Pritzker argues stability is more important, calling Smith a “good leader” who made positive changes during his three years at the helm of the department.

“When you have an agency that is so challenged like DCFS, that just cycling through leaders is somehow going to be helpful -- not at all,” Pritzker said. “You need stability, in fact, in order for an agency to improve.”

Smith has been found in contempt of court 10 times since January for children remaining in medical facilities longer than needed. In some cases, children were left in locked psychiatric facilities for months after their treatment had ended. In the latest finding, a 13-year-old girl was kept in a psychiatric facility for 50 days after her treatment was completed.

The children are left in those medical facilities due to a lack of residential beds. Several years ago, 500 beds were removed and have not been fully replenished in the years since. In part, that’s because residential beds cannot be easily replaced; they’re brick and mortar facilities that can’t be turned back on like a switch.

The problem is so frequent that the Cook County Juvenile Court has a docket specifically dedicated to these cases. They have hearings every Thursday.

Contempt of court holdings are unprecedented for directors. However, the issue of children being left in facilities is not new. in the year previous, the Cook County Public Guardian reported 356 children left in facilities for an average of 55 days after completing treatment.

“All of these contempt findings involve real children who are suffering,” Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said following the 10th contempt ruling. “This is time that the children will never get back. Most of these children spend many major holidays – Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, their birthdays – languishing, warehoused in wholly inappropriate and harmful settings.”

Additionally, an audit of the department’s performance for 2020 showed inconsistent and messy data and record keeping.

The audit said the department was either not providing legally required services to children and families or they were not keeping proper records of it. For instance, the auditors asked for 195 instances where a home safety check-in should have been conducted. DCFS was able to provide records of only three instances.

“I think it’s a damn shame that this is how bad it has gotten and this is what we’re stuck with,” Rep. Steve Reick (R-Woodstock) said. “I don’t think changing the director is going to solve the issue of the failure of this governor and his administration to do the things that he promised to do when he ran for office.”

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