File Photo – Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc D. Smith | Photo: Illinois DCFS

(The Center Square) – A new report by an inspector general for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services shows 171 children died while in contact with the department last year, 40% more than the year prior.

The 248-page report released by the Illinois Inspector General shows that in 2022, 49 more children died while in the custody of DCFS than in 2021.

That is a total of 171 children who died while on the department’s radar or within 12 months after the department made contact with them.

DCFS in Illinois receives $1.5 billion in taxpayer money annually.

State Rep. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, who filed a request for an audit of the department in April 2022, spoke about the report during the lame-duck session this week and urged all members to review the inspector general’s findings.

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“The department is in charge of keeping all of our most vulnerable children, not just alive, but safe,” Weber said. “I urge each of you to read the recent inspector general report on DCFS from last week. I can only describe it as disturbing.”

Weber called for changes to be made within the department.

“This annual report shows a 40% increase in deaths in children who were on DCFS’s radar,” Weber said.

“Gov. [J.B.] Pritzker may not want to admit it because he chose Director [Marc] Smith as his guy to control the agency, but it is clear it is time for a change,” Weber said.

DCFS Director Smith has received eight contempt of court orders after failing to place youth in proper care in a timely manner.

In April, more than three years into his first term, Pritzker was asked about these issues and blamed Republicans and his predecessor.

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“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, indeed, to provide no funding at all,” Pritzker said last spring.

Weber last Tuesday urged lawmakers to resolve to make a difference at DCFS in 2023.

“It enrages me that we continue to see not only a lack of progress at DCFS but steps backward,” Weber said.

“There is a heartbreaking, human cost when this agency is so poorly managed, and the legislature doesn’t do anything. These are children who have done nothing wrong and rely on the state for protection. Let’s work together and commit to actually making progress and getting results toward a better future for them,” Weber said.