Several lawmakers are calling for an audit of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services as the department faces ongoing issues, including recent deaths of children under its care.
State Reps. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, David Welter, R-Morris, and Chris Bos, R-Lake Zurich, discussed House Resolution 824 calling for action to be taken at DCFS at a Wednesday news conference.
“We have filed HR824 calling on the Illinois Auditor General to audit DCFS and examine the following: Changes the department has made thus far to prevent further deaths, to prevent unnecessary psychiatric stays and better serve the interests of system-involved youths,” Weber said.
Weber referenced the death of 5-year-old AJ Freund, who was killed on April 15, 2019, in his Crystal Lake home by his mother, JoAnn Cunningham.
“April 15th is the 3rd anniversary of the death of AJ Freund. I’ve been fighting for changes at DCFS for three years and Governor Pritzker has been giving empty promises of change for just as long. Enough talk. Action starts here,” Weber said.
DCFS caseworker Carlos J. Acosta and his supervisor, Andrew R. Polovin, were both charged with two felony counts of endangering the life of a child and one felony count of reckless conduct following AJ’s death.
The charges against the two were for “not acting in good faith” within their official capacity as DCFS employees. The charges also alleged that the two “knowingly caused or permitted the life or health” of AJ to be endangered.
Since December, five children have died while being served by the state’s child protection agency.
Critics blame the state’s child welfare agency, which had numerous interactions with the children and their families.
DCFS Director Marc Smith has received eight contempt of court orders after failing to place youth in proper care in a timely manner.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked about these issues and blamed Republicans and his predecessor.
“The very people who are holding a press conference downstairs are the same people who voted with [former Illinois Gov.] Bruce Rauner to underfund that agency,” Pritzker said. “Indeed to provide no funding at all.”
Pritzker said the challenges he was left with will take some time to fix.
“What I was left with, and what the current General Assembly was left with, was a lot of rebuilding that needed to take place and it’s not something you can snap your fingers and have happen overnight,” Pritzker said.
Bos said Pritzker can place blame where he wants but these issues are still ongoing during the fourth year of his administration.
“Governor, the children who died in 2019, 2020, 2021, and this year, cannot be blamed on your predecessor,” Bos said.
“The children being held for months in the hospital without being properly placed cannot be blamed on your predecessor,” Bos said.
The performance audit, if one happens, would look into the amount spent defending legal matters, including efforts to get the agency into court-mandated compliance for failure to properly place children, as well as the amount DCFS spent in 2020 and 2021 to address preventable deaths and stays in psychiatric facilities beyond medical necessity and emergency placements.
House Resolution 824 was filed Wednesday and is awaiting further action.
The Center Square and Lake and McHenry County Scanner both contributed to this story.