On Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker will lay out his vision for the state budget. His office has already made public his plan to send more money to the Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS.
At last count, 18,549 children were classified as wards of the state.
“When DCFS takes a child into their custody, that child really becomes ours collectively as a state. We are now responsible as the parents,” said Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which in 1988 kick-started a legal movement to force improvement at Illinois’ DCFS. A resulting court decree that seeks to curtail DCFS investigators’ caseloads still stands, even though, according to the ACLU, in 2019 more than 3,500 investigation assignments were given in violation of those limits.
That’s one of the many issues plaguing the agency, among them a state inspector general’s report that showed 123 children died in the last fiscal year despite contact with DCFS, and reports of youth in care being shackled and handcuffed while they were transported.
It’s against this backdrop that Gov. J.B. Pritkzer proposes increasing Illinois’ DCFS funding by 20% and increasing the agency’s headcount by 123 employees to go toward everything from supporting on-site drug testing, to repairs at youth shelters, to increased funding for social service agencies that state holds contracts with to help provide care for state wards, in an effort to decrease turnover.
Yohnka supports the effort, but said that it depends on how that money is utilized.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Policy Institute, which advocates for scaling back government and government spending, supports sending more money toward DCFS.
“We do need to invest more in DCFS and a range of other agencies. The thing is we can’t invest more in those things sustainably and in the long term if the only plan for more investment is higher taxes,” said the IPI’s Adam Schuster.
Schuster said spending on pensions is overcrowding spending on other needs – like DCFS – and proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow Illinois to scale back state employees’ retirement benefits.
Pritzker is adamantly opposed to that, and instead on Wednesday will likely highlight a constitutional amendment that is on the ballot, which would allow the state to tax income at graduated rates.
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