A state audit released Thursday found that the Department of Child and Family Services, responsible for investigating and overseeing cases of child abuse and neglect, failed to comply with reforms aimed at to increase the safety of children adopted in 2019.
The state auditor general’s 124-page report found dozens of instances in which DCFS failed to keep records of home security inspections, problems with the department’s record-keeping systems and problems with its tracking of medical checkups and other health care examinations. .
The audit was requested by lawmakers when passing a 2019 law reforming aspects of the department and introducing new child safety requirements. The law is named after Ta’Naja Barnes, a 2-year-old child who died of dehydration, malnutrition, neglect and exposure to cold. Barnes died six months after being returned to her mother, who was later convicted of murder for her death, according to the Auditor General’s report.
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One of the key findings of the audit is that DCFS has neglected its responsibilities when it comes to inspecting the homes of children in its care.
When a case is handled by DCFS, the department is regularly required to perform home assessments by completing home safety checklists. The checklists ask a social worker to check that the house has things like heating, water and working toilets. These checklists should have been updated with information about environmental barriers or hazards in the home to comply with the 2019 law.
When state auditors requested a sample of 195 of these checklists, the department was unable to provide 192 of them. The three it provided had not been updated. The checklist available on the DCFS website is still out of date, as of May 12.
The ministry was able to provide a different home inspection form for some cases, although these reports do not cover the same topics.
“These children may still have been in unsafe conditions because detailed assessments of their physical home and caregiver safety practices addressed by the Safe Home Checklist were not completed,” it read. in the report.
The department’s official response to this finding in the report says it will update the form, institute new training for employees and begin conducting monthly case reviews.
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Beyond the problems with home inspections, state auditors also uncovered cases of children whose health records were improperly recorded or missing.
“Children in the care of DCFS are not receiving their health visits/exams as required by the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Public Health Administrative Rules, Department of Health Handbook, and Family Services for Providers, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, as well as DCFS’ own procedures,” the report read.
Of the cases sampled by auditors, 18% missed a physical exam, 14% missed an eye exam, 56% missed a hearing test, and 88% missed a dental exam. The ministry’s record-keeping system also contained data entry errors.
These data issues have been a problem for some time. During the state’s last regular audit of the department, which covered a two-year period ending June 30, 2020, auditors identified similar data entry issues.
Auditors were completely unable to assess whether the department had accurate immunization records because the data provided to them by DCFS did not meet standards for validity and reliability.
“It is imperative that the medical information entered is correct,” the report read.
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DCFS pointed out in the report that medical services for most of the young people it cares for are provided by YouthCare, a private healthcare company. Social workers can access these records through a portal operated by YouthCare, according to the department.
“DCFS had previously identified that its outdated data tracking systems were limiting its ability to keep up with new requirements,” Bill McCaffrey, a DCFS spokesperson, said in a statement. “As a result, DCFS was already taking significant steps to address these issues, including a complete replacement of the department’s child welfare information systems.”
Auditors also found that the agency failed to document services provided to families after a judge determined that a child should be placed with their original family or guardian. These include things like home visits, educational advocacy, referrals for medical or psychological treatment, or housing assistance, according to McCaffrey.
State law requires the department to provide these “aftercare” services for six months to families. The auditors found that 58% of the cases they tested failed to meet this requirement.
DCFS said it has taken steps to address these and other issues, including training staff, increasing resources and addressing staffing issues at child welfare organizations.
“The Ministry of Children and Family Services has taken aggressive steps to improve the services and care provided to youth in care over the past three years,” McCaffrey said.
The report also identified that the department is unable to track or identify referrals made by mandated reporters due to new requirements of the 2019 law. These referrals come from people like teachers or social workers. who are required to report signs of abuse or neglect.
DCFS provided data suggesting it was tracking those reports and that the 2019 reforms resulted in a significant increase in referrals, though it only provided that information to investigators after it had completed work, the report said. .
These aren’t the only problems DCFS has had recently. In late April, DCFS director Marc Smith was held in contempt of court for failing to place a 15-year-old boy with special needs in a facility that complied with court orders. The boy was held in a closed psychiatric unit for months, despite a medical release and a court order ordering DCFS to move the boy.
It was the ninth time this year that Smith faced a contempt citation for similar charges.
The department has also drawn criticism for the safety of its workers. In January, Deidre Silas died on the job after being killed during a home visit.
These issues caused lawmakers to criticize the department and politicians to start blaming the governor for the situation.
“DCFS continues to ignore orders to move children out of very, very dangerous places,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Thursday. “The governor has to admit this. He never took responsibility for DCFS.”
Contact Andrew Adams: email@example.com; (312)-291-1417; twitter.com/drewjayadams.