Illinois Agency Draws Aclu's Fire Child Welfare Department's Failure to Meet Deadline on Reforms Decried

Article excerpt

The state's child welfare agency has made little progress toward meeting a Friday deadline for broad court-ordered reforms, an attorney said Monday.

The Department of Children and Family Services has not changed policies that probably led to some of its most notorious failures, including the April 1993 hanging death of 3-year-old Joseph Wallace, said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Benjamin Wolf.

The agency had returned Joseph to his mother despite her long history of mental illness. She has been charged in his death.

A December 1991 federal consent decree settling an ACLU lawsuit against DCFS set Friday as a deadline for implementing dozens of reforms aimed at improving child-welfare services.

The lawsuit alleged that the agency had failed to provide a haven for mistreated children, and Wolf said it still is failing to do so.

"It's not just that the department is late, it's that we don't see any real progress," he said.

"The inability to make competent risk assessments and intelligent decisions about where children should be placed and what happens to them are among the things where we have seen very little improvement if any" since the decree was entered, Wolf said Monday.

Department Director Jess McDonald acknowledged that there are problems that can't be fixed before decree deadlines but said the agency is working on them.

"I understand Ben's concerns that we may not have the best people out there," McDonald said.

He said there is more training going on than ever before, as well as plans to bring in outside experts to teach.

"That does not mean that every person that will be out there is going to be an expert in the field," McDonald said. …