SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday ordered an independent review of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and nominated a new director after the recent deaths of toddlers who were under the child welfare agency's care.
Pritzker nominated Marc D. Smith to head the department. 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. Smith's nomination is pending confirmation of the Illinois Senate.
The governor 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. He also has requested "actionable recommendations" in the next six weeks on "improving children's safety and the quality of the services the agency is providing."
After those initial recommendations the center will provide a more comprehensive review of the unit.
"The most vulnerable people in Illinois are the children served by DCFS, and we must provide them the best services that our state can offer, which means assessing and implementing the recommendations of child welfare experts," Pritzker said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Illinois lawmakers criticized the agency's performance during a state Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register reported. An Office of the Inspector General's report found 98 children involved with DCFS have died in the last two years.
"I do not believe anymore that this agency can function as it is currently legislatively comprised," said state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Republican from Mahomet.
The moves come after authorities said the mother of a 2-year-old Decatur girl pleaded not guilty last month to first-degree murder charges after the girl died from starvation and deprivation. The child was taken from her mother in 2018 during a DCFS child abuse investigation and placed in foster care. She was returned to her mother in August.
In Chicago, an autopsy this month found a 2-year-old boy had bruises and old rib fractures but records show DCFS workers never reported injuries despite numerous visits. Pritzker said that "gross mistakes" were made.