In 2019, ProPublica Illinois reported that the state’s Department of Children and Family Services was failing to serve Spanish-speaking families by not offering Spanish-speaking caseworkers and placing children into homes where Spanish wasn’t spoken, despite a federal consent decree that has been in place since 1977 requiring the agency to do so.
A follow-up investigation by reporters Melissa Sanchez and Duaa Eldeib in August indicates the agency has barely made any progress in complying with that consent decree in the last two years – a discovery that was made when Cook County public guardian Charles Golbert took it upon himself to check on the agency.
“He had read our earlier reporting and he knew that the agency has struggled for years with following this consent decree. And so part of the consent decree, like the most basic part, is for DCFS to be able to identify whether a family needs Spanish-language services,” said reporter Melissa Sanchez. “They weren’t seeing these papers show up in the case files when they got a hold of a case a few weeks in. And so they worried that maybe those forms were never being filled out. And so they counted every single case over the course of 10 months that involved a Spanish-speaking family … They counted about 80 cases and not a single one of those files included that form. So that … indicates that the agency was just not complying with the consent decree at all.”
The language determination form also affects whether a Spanish-speaking child placed in foster care will be in a Spanish-speaking foster home.
“What we found a couple of years ago and what’s still happening today is essentially, families get separated for a really long time. If you don’t speak English and you get assigned a caseworker who doesn’t speak Spanish, you can never really communicate very well,” Sanchez said.
But Sanchez notes that while DCFS does seem to be trying to address the problem, their struggles in keeping an adequate number of bilingual personnel on staff continue.
“There’s a lot of turnover at DCFS and especially with bilingual workers, it’s a hard job and bilingual workers feel like they have higher and they have tougher caseloads than their non-bilingual counterparts,” Sanchez said. “They have to translate all the records … it’s a lot of work … DCFS says it’s constantly hiring and they do job fairs and posts all over the place. But it’s a hard, it’s a hard job to do. People don’t want to stay in it long.”