DCFS reports over 1,000 child deaths in Illinois over last decade

The Office of the Inspector General, with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, released its annual 2021 report to the Governor and General Assembly. Although there’s been a decrease in the number of child deaths, the deaths over the decade left a mark. 

There have been 1,122 child deaths since 2010, and the deceased children had connections with DCFS within a year of their deaths. 

Lester G. Bovia, Jr., the interim inspector general of DCFS, said OIG investigates child deaths that occur each year, according to the report.

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“OIG’s most important work is our review and investigation of child deaths that meet OIG’s criteria for case opening – that is, child deaths where DCFS had contact with the family within the preceding year,” Bovia said.

A death can be investigated by OIG, but the cause of death may be from other causes that have no relation to DCFS, Bovia said. 

“A child’s death may have met our criteria for case opening does not necessarily mean DCFS has any culpability for it,” Bovia said. “Sometimes, tragedy strikes due to external or natural causes having nothing to do with DCFS. Nevertheless, child death case numbers are one metric OIG tracks for a snapshot of the state of the child welfare system.” 

The total number of child deaths is categorized each year by youth in care, natural causes, accidents,  homicides, suicides, or undetermined causes. 

On average, there have been 105 deaths per year since 2000-2019, and child deaths have decreased by 17% since the 2020 annual report.

(See more: Office of the Inspector General Annual 2021 Report )

Dana Weiner, a senior policy fellow at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, said systemic influences create barriers that contribute to DCFS child fatality cases. 

“The report explains them better than me, but cultural factors, operational factors, and structural factors are systemic factors. There were some pervasive behaviors and attitudes among front-line staff that would and wouldn’t be taken seriously by the court,” Weiner said. “There were also blind spots where children could potentially remain in families where they were risks, and the families weren’t receiving services.” 

(See more: Systemic Challenges at Illinois DCFS )

Making improvements to DCFS programs that are already established can also prevent child deaths. 

“I was asked by the governor to review the functioning of the intact family services program, after a couple of deaths of children who remained with their parents after an investigation by DCFS. Intact is a preventive program that families are involved in when they are investigated,” Weiner said.

The public can help support children and families by engaging in more community-based activities, and this also helps spread awareness about services that are available, Weiner said. 

“Child welfare systems are increasingly acknowledging the role of community and the larger community context in both creating risks, but also helping to support families so that they can have the protective factors that will keep children safe,” Weiner said. “I think the work that’s taking place in the area of prevention, tries to build capacity to deliver preventive services, but also to raise community awareness about services that are available.”

Courtney Alexander can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at ___Courtney_alex23______. 

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