CHICAGO (CBS)– The death of a 2-year-old Chicago boy, tragically beaten to death while under the watch of the Department of Children and Family Services, has sparked concern.
Several stakeholders agree that in recent years, DCFS has been violating the terms of a court ordered consent decree that was supposed to bring caseloads down and help protect kids, like the 2-year-old Ja’hir Gibbons who died last week.
It has been 31 years since Ben Wolf, of the Illinois ACLU, brought a class action lawsuit against the Illinois DCFS that led to the consent decree mandating lower caseloads for investigators and increased reporting requirements.
“It’s been a long battle,” Wolf said.
Wolf said things have gotten considerably worse since the Blagojevich administration, when corruption allegations plagued the state agency.
As recently as two weeks ago, the ACLU, which monitors the consent decree, testified before state legislators for help.
Not only was the department broken and chaotic, but it stopped sharing basic information with us,” Wolf said.
This is why news of the tragic death of Gibbons last week was sadly less than surprising.
That includes the admission that Gibbons’ private agency-contracted caseworker may have lied on visit records about actually checking on the boy in the days leading up to his death.
“One of the things that happens when a system is broken and people are overwhelmed, there’s an incentive to be deceitful so you can meet the requirements of the job and that’s just wrong,” Wolf said.
AFSCME Council 31 can also attest to the agency’s failure to meet caseload levels of 12 new investigations per month set in the consent decree.
Their members include a range of frontline employees with DCFS.
“Up until a couple of years ago it was not uncommon for investigators to be assigned 15 or even 20 cases per month and that just makes it too risky that a child will slip through the cracks,” Anders Lindall, of the AFSCME Council 31, said.
Lindall said it has gotten better, but Cook County is still short about 30 investigators and the state is short more than 100 investigators. They are supportive of Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposal to add 126 caseworkers to his 2020 budget.
AFSCME would also like DCFS to reconsider outsourcing caseworkers from outside agencies, like the caseworker in Jahir’s case.
DCFS did not respond to our request for comment.