DCFS failures to protect children could get worse under Amendment 1

DCFS failures to protect children could get worse under Amendment 1

Child deaths, contempt of court citations and an employee facing child porn charges beleaguer the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Now government unions are pushing Amendment 1, which could void 11 child protection laws.

More than 2,129 children died under the watch of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services during the past two decades, including 122 kids in a recent year.

The 2022 DCFS Office of the Inspector General report examining deaths and serious injuries of children in state care, alongside allegations of impropriety by DCFS employees, covered 27 full investigations between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021. It recommended the discharge or discipline of DCFS employees in nine of the 27 investigations. They failed to perform basic duties, compromised investigations, misused department authority and even solicited sex from clients.

Additional reports from the Illinois Auditor General found DCFS failed to provide home safety checklists in 98% of cases where kids returned to their parents’ residences after allegations of abuse or neglect. The watchdog also deemed immunization records provided by the agency for kids in state care “unreliable.”

These systemic department failures, alongside others outlined in a report by Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, have been compounded by DCFS Director Marc Smith being held in contempt of court 12 times during 2022 for failing to get children into appropriate housing. DCFS left children for months locked in psychiatric hospitals and other inappropriate housing.

Amendment 1 on the ballot Nov. 8 would make it even harder to protect Illinois’ most vulnerable kids by undermining 11 different provisions in state law aimed at improving accountability. These include mandatory background checks for DCFS workers and employment bans on adults deemed “sexually dangerous” by the state.

The constitutional amendment would give union leaders the permanent ability to override state laws through collective bargaining agreements – including provisions in the Children and Family Services Act.

For example, the union representing DCFS workers could demand a contract provision prohibiting the state from performing background checks or from reviewing employees’ work – under the auspices that such provisions relate to a “condition of employment.” If the state doesn’t go along, the union could call a strike.

Child pornography charges were filed against DCFS information technology worker Brett Wexstten in May. A government employer should know if there is a child porn conviction on his record.

The ballot measure would hand government unions permanent rights that lawmakers would never be able to curtail. The proposal prohibits lawmakers from putting any limits on what subjects can be negotiated into contracts.

In other words, Amendment 1 places government union power to negotiate DCFS employee contracts above state laws and lawmakers’ authority to protect vulnerable children. It puts those powers in the Illinois Constitution, where they are set in stone and cannot be easily changed regardless of what the future holds.

No state has empowered union leaders to override provisions put in place for the protection of vulnerable children. Illinois should not be the first.

DCFS already has enough challenges to its mission.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!