Tackling troubled DCFS program

In an effort to protect wards of the state, State Representative Christine Winger (R-Bloomingdale) passed legislation out of the Illinois House today that initiates a recommendation made at a legislative hearing scrutinizing the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Rep. Winger’s legislation specifically targets allegations of abuse at state-supported youth residential facilities.

At the hearing, a former ward of the state testified that having the ability to submit complaints, concerns and suggestions anonymously would help improve the safety of state wards living in residential treatment centers regulated by DCFS. She explained that oftentimes residents felt they needed anonymity to report wrongdoing or risk retaliation from their abusers.

HB 3172 requires all state-supported residential treatment centers to provide a lock box where wards can submit complaints, concerns, and ideas for improvement. It also requires DCFS staff to review the contents of the boxes every week.

The legislative hearings were in response to The Chicago Tribune’s “Harsh Treatment” series of articles.  The Chicago Tribune described that between 2011 and 2013, DCFS received 428 reports of wards being sexually assaulted or abused in the care of the residential treatment centers. There were an additional 1,052 reports of physical abuse and an unbelievable 29,425 reports of wards who ran away or who were otherwise missing.

Some of those who ran away committed crimes, fell victim to gang rape or human trafficking. The failure of DCFS to protect children in their care led Rep. Winger to sponsor HB 3172.

“The brave testimony of the former ward was compelling,” explained Winger. “A simple suggestion box is something that can be implemented immediately and would improve the safety of our youth in the care of the state.”

Winger hopes this will be a small step towards cleaning up a DCFS system that's been plagued with issues and expects to continue to work with the new administration towards that goal.

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