LAKE COUNTY, Ill. - Time and time again, legislators and governors have called for change in DCFS — the agency that is facing decades of youth dying in their care, director turnover and a lack of accountability.
Damari Perry and his siblings spent about two years in foster care after his mother, who is now charged with his death, temporarily lost custody pending a DCFS investigation.
Even after the children's return, DCFS was called again after the boy's mother wrote a note threatening to harm Damari.
The 6-year-old's body was found this past weekend in Gary, Indiana, just days after he was reported missing.
An autopsy revealed that the boy had died a week earlier.
State Rep. Tom Weber, who represents Lake County, has been advocating for reform within DCFS since the beating death of AJ Freund in 2019.
"Children like AJ and Damari were innocent, and we left them unprotected," said Rep. Weber. "All told, from 2010 to March 2021, 1,122 children who had contact with Illinois Department of Children and Family Services have died."
Rep. Weber also pointed out that the agency is having difficulties placing children, leaving more than 350 children this past year in psychiatric care for an average of 55 days — despite being approved for placement with a family.
In 2019, Gov. Pritzker ordered a DCFS study to identify areas of improvement. He also boosted the agency's funding by $75 million.
Three years later, it seems little has changed.
"It is time that Democrats and Republicans join together in the general assembly to truly reform the failed policies of this agency," said Rep. Weber.
There is currently legislation in the works to provide more protection for DCFS caseworkers, after a central Illinois investigator was killed while responding to a case of child abuse.
Bill McCaffrey, Director of Communications for DCFS, released the following statement:
"The Department of Children and Family Services is dedicated to keeping children safe and strengthening families. 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. Every single day, DCFS works with its network of providers and foster parents in an ongoing effort to place these children in settings that can provide the appropriate level of care and in which the children can grow and flourish."