CHICAGO — A scathing audit of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services released by the state's Auditor General Tuesday found the agency's operations were overwhelmed and underperforming, as a bipartisan group of state lawmakers is promising to help fix it.
The state audit was triggered two years ago, after 17-month-old Semaj Crosby was found dead under the couch of her Joliet home while her mother was under DCFS supervision. Crosby's death remains unsolved, but the investigation of DCFS's procedures and practices at at the time of her death was just released Tuesday.
The Illinois Auditor General reviewed data available for 2017, which included 75,037 reports of abuse or neglect investigated by DCFS. The agency found there was credible evidence in 25 percent of those cases.
However, the audit found DCFS workers and third party contractors were often overloaded with cases, despite a federal consent decree which placed limits on caseloads. It also found problems with communication and documentation, to the detriment of the kids.
The audit is being released as a bipartisan group of state lawmakers is promising a top-to-bottom review of DCFS, with the end goal of never repeating past tragedies like the case of Semaj Crosby, and more recently, AJ Freund.
State Representative Anna Moeller (D-43rd District) said she was born to a drug abusing mother like AJ, but she was placed with her grandparents. She’s convinced that saved her from a lifetime of misery or even death.
"It’s clear that the state failed AJ, it’s clear we must make changes to the state's child protective care system," Rep. Moeller said.
AJ’s death is by no means the only tragedy to come from a broken DCFS system, and Moeller is one of a bipartisan group of lawmakers forming a new caucus dedicated to reforming DCFS and improving the safety of Illinois children.
Another member of the newly-formed caucus in Springfield, Representative Mary Flowers (D-31st District) says the agency needs a complete makeover and state lawmakers must be held accountable, too.
A spokesman for Governor Pritzker says part of the problem is DCFS has been financially gutted for years, and he has taken steps to improve the agency including adding 126 caseworkers, requesting an "independent review" of DCFS, and appointing a new director.