The number of children who were killed while under the supervision of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services declined last fiscal year, according to a report released last week by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.
The homicide count dropped to 16 from a record-breaking 28 in fiscal year 2012. The report states that 13 children were killed while under DCFS supervision or within a year of the dismissal of a child abuse case. Three children were killed in street shootings, according to the inspector general’s report, which covers homicides between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013.
The state agency has a history of problems protecting abused children dating back to the late ’80s when the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all children in the custody of DCFS. The lawsuit alleged that the agency was “so overloaded, underfunded and mismanaged that it routinely inflicted terrible harm” on the children in its custody.
In recent years, some state lawmakers have called for a major restructuring of DCFS after a series of media reports, including by The Chicago Reporter, about the child deaths.
In September 2012, the Reporter analyzed 10 years’ worth of agency reports that showed that DCFS had failed to protect hundreds of children. Between fiscal year 2000 and 2011, the department was actively involved with the family at the time of a child’s death in 41 percent of the homicides. And nearly 20 percent of the homicides occurred within a year after DCFS investigators dismissed the allegations of abuse or neglect as “unfounded.”
Last November, WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times also reported on the issue.
On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn appointed Arthur Bishop to succeed Richard Calica, who resigned as director last year. Bishop previously headed the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice; he also worked for DCFS for more than a decade.
Although the number of homicides while the children were under agency supervision declined last fiscal year, Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris says the deaths are a sign of a bigger problem.
“There is a reluctance to bring cases into the court system,” said Harris, who represents abused and neglected children.
For years, the number of children under DCFS’ care has decreased and there is an effort to keep it that way, he said.
The homicide numbers are only the tip of the iceberg, Harris said, adding that there are many abused and neglected children who are less visible.
In a written statement, Karen Hawkins, deputy director of communications for DCFS, emphasized the agency’s commitment to protecting children: “One child death due to abuse or neglect in Illinois is one too many. Behind each number is a child, and as part of our commitment to those children and their families, we must always be thorough, thoughtful and vigilant.”
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