Lawmakers call for DCFS review after deaths of 6-year-old boy, caseworker


CHICAGO — A group of state legislators is calling for public hearings regarding the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS), and they’re sharply criticizing the Governor.

Many Republican lawmakers blasted Governor JB Pritzker, accusing him of remaining silent with the emergence of new controversies involving the troubled state agency. In addition, legislators pointed to tragic failures with the recent murder of a DCFS caseworker and 6-year-old Damari Perry.  

“If that’s not a crisis, I don’t know what is,” Rep. Tom Weber said (R-64th District).

“We are here today to continue our call for immediate, immediate public hearings,” Rep. Tony McCombe said (R-71stDistrict).

In a virtual press conference, Rep. Steve Reick (R-63rd District) focused a harsh light on Illinois’ Governor.

“Where’s the Governor on this thing?” Reick said. “This is a man who’s not afraid of running to a camera every chance he gets but on this one, he has been totally silent.”

The downstate murder of DCFS caseworker Deidre Silas raised new questions about the agency’s ability to protect workers. 

Illinois DCFS worker stabbed to death during home visit

“These are the questions that need to be asked on the record,” McCombe said.

More recently, the horrific case of North Chicago’s Damari Perry raised warning flags after the 6-year-old died on his birthday, investigators say, allegedly at the hands of his mother, Jannie Perry, who’s been under investigation for years by DCFS. 

“DCFS had two investigations before the boy’s death, including an abuse and neglect investigation where Demari’s mother wrote a threatening message about harming the boy,” Weber said.

Acting DCFS director Marc Smith, whose tenure is now under a microscope, says the agency has been “under-resourced and understaffed for years.”

Legislators are frustrated by the continuing problems, with Rep. Reick pointing to agency red tape and what he describes as a “mind-numbing” bureaucracy standing in the way of a quick response when kids are in danger. 

On several occasions, Director Smith was held in contempt by local judges for failing to find foster care for children discharged from local hospitals, a problem first reported by WGN Investigates

At least two of those contempt orders, according to DCFS spokespeople, dropped Thursday morning in Cook County Court.  

In a written statement, the agency says, “We are working aggressively addressing the decades-long challenge of a lack of community resources and facilities for children with complex behavioral health needs, which has been exacerbated by an increased demand in social services in recent years.”

WGN News reached out to the Governors’ press office for comment regarding criticism directed at Pritzker. In a statement, the Governors’ press office wrote, “Since taking office, the Governor increased DCFS’ budget by over $340 million with DCFS launching aggressive hiring efforts to bring on 860 additional staff. These investments passed without the support of the Republicans in General Assembly.”

Pritzker’s aides say the previous Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner cut 500 youth beds without creating any new options, which remains a significant issue for DCFS, as reported by WGN Investigates.

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