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DCFS improvement plan passes General Assembly

SPRINGFIELD – A plan by state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, to improve the transparency, accountability and effectiveness of the Department of Children and Family Services has cleared the Illinois General Assembly.

It now goes to the governor for his approval.

“We have to hold DCFS to the highest standards possible,” Morrison said. “Thousands of children are depending on state government to keep them safe.”

Morrison’s plan includes the following measures:

• Senate Bill 3009 – Requires DCFS to make annual reports to the General Assembly about the effectiveness of its day care licensing system, which serves more than 300,000 children.

• Senate Bill 3217 – Requires the Illinois Children’s Justice Task Force to develop recommendations for a multidisciplinary team approach for investigating child abuse allegations. During a series of hearings last year, leading pediatricians recommended creating these teams of DCFS investigators, law enforcement, doctors and other relevant professionals.

• Senate Bill 3421 – Encourages required reporters of child abuse to complete training every five years. Mandated reporters include teachers and other education professionals, doctors and other medical professionals, and other people who work in fields that require them to have frequent contact with children.

The keystone of the package is Senate Bill 2909, which strengthens DCFS’ safety plans. These plans are put in place when DCFS investigators determine that allegations of abuse or neglect are serious but do not yet warrant custody or foster care. The requirements of these plans vary, but they can involve moving the child to the home of a relative like a grandparent or aunt, requiring one or more members of the household to temporarily leave the home, or requiring another family member to temporarily move in and supervise.

During a series of hearings Morrison hosted in late 2013 and early 2014, she learned some of Illinois’ child welfare organizations, including the Family Defense Center, are concerned with DCFS’ implementation of safety plans. These organizations believe DCFS fails to put some plans in writing, never reviews others and fails to provide important information to the adults involved in the plans.

Morrison’s legislation requires DCFS to provide written copies of each safety plan to the adult caregivers named in the plan. Both the caregivers and the child protection supervisor must sign each plan, and the department must keep these signed documents on file. DCFS must also supply each caregiver with a list of rights and responsibilities under the plans.

“DCFS can’t just write safety plans and then assume everything will work out for the best,” Morrison said. “The agency needs to follow up with children and caregivers, and we need to hold the agency accountable for these children’s safety.”

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