SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has ordered an independent review of the state’s child welfare agency and nominated a new director.
On Wednesday, Pritzker nominated Marc D. Smith to head the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Smith is an executive vice president at Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness, one of the state’s largest service providers to those in crisis. He has also been a social worker and was a public service administrator with DCFS.
Also on Wednesday, Pritzker said he has asked the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall policy research center to conduct a comprehensive review of how the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ Intact Family Services Unit functions.
The governor said he also asked for recommendations in the next weeks. The order came after several children, including 2-year-old Ja’hir Gibbons, have died who were under the agency’s care.
“Within six weeks we will be presenting recommendations that will guide the department’s efforts to improve their ability to detect threats to safety as well as to improve the delivery of services to children and family,” Dr. Dana Weiner, policy fellow, Chapin Hall at University of Chicago, said.
Acting Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert was part of a class action lawsuit filed against DCFS on behalf of children left locked in psychiatric hospitals even after they were cleared for discharge. He said the agency also needs more placements for children, increased transparency and long term leadership to see reforms through.
He said that in the previous fiscal year, DCFS’s inspector general found that 98 children died while under DCFS supervision. He hopes the investigation will help.
“This director is walking into a 10 year void of leadership, because there’s been 13 directors in the last 10 years…there’s been no consistent long-term leadership for a decade,” Golbert said.
Smith will have to be confirmed by the State Senate. Julie Morrison, the head of the Senate Human Services Committee, said she is looking forward to learning more about Smith and working with him to restructure DCFS from the ground up.
Ben Wolf, Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois issued the following statement:
“On behalf of our clients and all children in Illinois, we welcome the Governor’s actions today to name a new DCFS Director and begin a comprehensive review of the agency. We hope to work with Mr. Smith to turn around an agency that repeatedly has failed to serve the children under their care, and failed to provide services to children based on scientific evidence, not wishful thinking and pre-conceived notions.
It is time for a new era of reform, transparency and commitment to service at DCFS. We stand ready to meet with Mr. Smith and the experts as soon as possible to share a vision of how we can move forward for all the children in Illinois.”