CHICAGO (CBS) — In the days after the AJ Freund case, the Illinois State Senate called for a massive review of the child abuse hotline system in Illinois.
On Thursday night, the results of an audit were released – and the reviews were not good. But as CBS 2’s Chris Tye reported, even larger questions are emerging over whether the agency being audited was grading itself.
If you saw child abuse in Illinois right this minute and you called the hotline tasked with stopping it, it would likely be 12 to 24 hours before someone called you back.
Illinois is at the bottom of a new audit comparing the state to seven other states. The audit was supposed to be independent, but appears to be anything but.
“These emails say to me that DCFS put a very heavy thumb on the scale,” said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert.
The report was supposed to be released six weeks ago. But emails obtained by CBS 2 show that the night before the release, the very department being graded was being given the red pen.
The chief of communications for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services – the state agency that runs the child abuse hotline – determined, “(W)e are going to push back the deadline until next week.”
The University of Illinois team, which is supposed to be acting independently, said, “Well, that’s just weird.”
But the weirdness started earlier. In the months leading up to the release, the DCFS was provided a “biweekly progress report” on the audit.
And before its publishing, the U of I social worker in charge of the non-political audit wrote, “In addition, I need to get feedback from the Governor’s Office and incorporate it.”
“If DCFS got to edit in rewrites, and the PR people at DCFS was involved, and the Governor’s office got to edit, it was not independent,” Golbert said.
“It makes it seem like they had a lot more influence on it than they should have, which again, I think they should have had nothing to do with the process,” said Leyda Garcia Greenawalt.
Greenawalt leads the Foster Care Alumni Network in Illinois. She said the big loser when government removes independent investigators are the kids who rely on that hotline.
“The hotline is the most important part,” she said. “Being really the front line and the first point of contact with DCFS, it should be the strongest point.”
The report said DCFS mandates overtime for hotline workers who don’t want it and creates hardships and mistakes.
The DCFS said it is committed to fixing the problems in the report. The agency declined CBS 2’s interview request for this story.
We also reached out to a representative for Gov. J.B. Pritzker and for the state senator who called for the audit. Neither returned our calls.