PEORIA, Ill. – No one wants to hear about the death of a child, especially one by abuse. That’s why recent reports of children dying while in DCFS custody have increased focus among state legislators and advocates.
On Wednesday, Governor J.B Pritzker said, “…nothing is more important than protecting our most vulnerable children.” He went on to say that systemic change and severe improvements are needed to help fix issues in the DCFS system.
“It’s unfortunate what has happened in the past when you look at our own community,” said Pamela Perrilles, Executive Director of CASA. “We have over 1600 children that are youth in the system.”
CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocates relies on volunteers to help children in DCFS custody.
“DCFS does need an overhaul, they need the help,” she said. “They need to have the funding to better train their staff and higher more people. There’s really a great need out there.”
CEO of the Center for Youth & Family Solutions in Peoria, Trish fox, says the Illinois Child Welfare system is in a crisis. She says in order to make changes, organizations need support from legislators.
“You can change practice and you can invest in systems change that don’t cost money, but if you don’t have a workforce to do it, how is that going to happen,” said Fox.
She went on to say, it begins with investing in workers, she believes compensation for caseworkers should match their arduous workload.
“You’re trying to attract people who have a Bachelor’s degree and who want to do an incredibly challenging job where they are constantly making decisions about kids safety,” she said. “They’re taking home an hourly wage less than the proposed minimum wage…people are leaving to go work elsewhere and can you really blame them?”
But the conflict is, state lawmakers are split on the issue of providing more funding to help DCFS agencies.
“I think we absolutely have to get our arms wrestled around this agency and the services it needs to provide to protect our kids ultimately,” said State Representative, (R) Jason Barickman.
He went on to say this issue has garnered the attention of many in Springfield, but says money is not the answer.
“I don’t beleive that simply throwing more money at this giant organization is going to get us the outcomes that we need,” he said. “I think the problem is more systemic and requires a deeper look.”
However, State Senator, (D) Dave Koehler says funding an organization that is taked with providing the best situation for children is a no brainer.
“You got to have the workforce to be able to do it and so yes, the answer is to the question of whether it needs more funding, it obviously needs more funding,” said Sen. Koehler. “It needs some changes, we need to think of how we are re-doing it and I think that is coming soon.”