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Legislator says new laws not enough to fix Illinois’ troubled child welfare agency

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(The Center Square) – Starting Jan. 1, Illinois will enact new laws that aim to fix issues within the Department of Children and Family Services. However, one lawmaker says there is still a long way to go.

House Bill 3705 places children in suitable permanent family arrangements rather than in suitable adoptive homes, in cases where restoration to the biological family is not safe. House Bill 2861 states that DCFS shall prepare a written report for filing with the court and send copies of the report to all parties involved. Senate Bill 375 requires DCFS to develop and implement a safety-based child welfare intervention system.

The laws come amid sustained criticism of the agency’s handling of children in its custody.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said state officials and DCFS need to sit down to devise a plan.

“I hope we can sit down and try to come up with a plan to fix all the issues,” Meier said. “We need to take politics out of it and look at the child and determine what’s best for them and how we can get there.”

Meier hopes the new laws would work to keep kids safe, but insisted more needs to be done.

“Every case is different. It is not easy for any director or anyone else to know what is happening,” Meier said. “We have got to have people with boots on the ground, checking on the services these kids are getting in foster care.”

A lack of cooperation is one of the main issues Meier said is stifling needed changes within DCFS.

“I think we have got to get back to working together to make these things happen,” Meier told The Center Square. “We shouldn’t see a bill right when it’s ready to come out, and they already have the votes for it. Why can’t we work together?”

Outside of laws, other changes coming to the agency in the new year include a new agency director. Marc Smith, who has received at least nine contempt of court citations after failing to place youth in proper care promptly, is retiring at the end of the year.

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