Legislators hope resignation of child welfare director brings fix to agency



(The Center Square) – Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith is resigning.

The state’s child welfare agency has been criticized for years by legislators, audits and even the courts. Smith had been found in contempt of court several times for not properly placing children in care of the state in a timely fashion.

Recent audits showed the agency was not reporting alleged child abuse to the proper authorities in a timely fashion.

Legislators also recently criticized the agency for emergency rules it promulgated to restrict day care assistants from watching rooms of toddlers for no more than 90 minutes at the beginning and end of the day. That rule was suspended by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in July.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced Smith’s planned exit in a statement along with other state agency transitions.

“Theresa Eagleson, Director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS), will step down at the end of 2023,” Pritzker’s office announced. “The Governor has appointed Lizzy Whitehorn, who currently serves as First Assistant Deputy Governor for Health and Human Services, to serve as Director of HFS beginning January 1, 2024, pending confirmation by the Illinois Senate. The Governor also announced the upcoming transitions, also at the end of the calendar year, of Paula Basta, Director of the Illinois Department on Aging (IDoA), and Marc D. Smith, Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Finally, the Governor announced the appointment of Camile Lindsay as Acting Director of Professional Regulation at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), pending confirmation. Lindsay is currently serving as First Assistant Deputy Governor for Public Safety, Infrastructure, Environment and Energy.”

Smith said in a statement his mission was clear.

“Build a child welfare system in Illinois that keeps kids safe and supports families in crisis,” Smith said. “I am incredibly proud of the profound progress we have made. DCFS continues making a difference where it matters most – by keeping children safe, creating brighter futures for the youth in our care, and giving hope to families in crisis that need support. We are on our way to building a child welfare system in Illinois that will once again serve as a national model. The governor and his administration have been incredible partners. Together we confronted the longstanding challenges at DCFS head-on, with both optimism and pragmatism, so we can help families and children thrive. I am profoundly proud to have had the opportunity to lead and work alongside the amazing team of professionals at DCFS that have dedicated their lives to protecting and supporting our most vulnerable children.”

Senate President Don Harmon’s office told The Center Square of Smith’s departure, “President Harmon thanks him for his service and wishes him well.”

Republicans see Smith’s planned departure as an opportunity to address a range of issues with the agency.

“Protecting and caring for our state’s most vulnerable children and families is an incredibly important responsibility of the Governor’s administration,” said a joint statement from state Sens. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, and Sally Turner, R-Benson. “As the recent compliance audit makes crystal clear, the issues with DCFS aren’t getting better, the situation actually appears to be getting worse. We hope the Governor takes this opportunity to finally fix the issues that plague DCFS and have led to heartbreaking stories of children waiting months for placements, or those who tragically have lost their lives.”

Messages seeking reaction from the offices of House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, were not immediately returned.

Smith has been the director of the agency since appointed by Pritzker in 2019. He was confirmed by the Illinois Senate in 2021.

Pritzker’s office said over the next several months, it will conduct a national search to find a new Director of IDoA and Director of DCFS.



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