Lawmakers are urging the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to be more transparent with the public.
State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said in a press conference Tuesday the agency withheld reports on incidents of child abuse over the last few months. She says the agency took down the data from its website last July — a first after 35 years. “I’m certainly hoping this isn’t secrecy and trying to shroud facts about what’s going on with children," she said.
Feigenholtz filed a House resolution last week asking the agency to release the data, after going back and forth for nine months with Freedom of Information Requests. Tuesday morning, the data were back up on the DCFS website.
The agency’s director, Beverly Walker, said they have been experiencing technical difficulties with the old reporting system, and have used the time to release an updated report. She said the first time the issue was reported last year, the agency had to decide how to move forward with the reporting system, which she says is more than twenty years old: “We then started to figure out — do we try to repair what is an ancient system, or do we try to put something new together — that would allow us to release that report?”
James McIntyre, president of the Foster Care Alumni of America Illinois Chapter, said the released data show an increase in the number of children being re-abused. "That number has skyrocketed by 50 percent since 2015,” he said. “We also see a spike in opioid-related calls. Services for people addicted to opioids have been cut over the last three years, and we worry that is the reason for the spike of caseloads related to opioid use.”
In a statement, Walker said there are no increases in the number of re-abused children. She said these are a result of a change in how the agency tracks cases about a family: "The numbers are higher because we started counting them so we can have a real-time running total of how many investigative contacts we have had with a family." According to Walker, the previous way of tracking did not take into consideration prior reports of abuse if they happened to be unfounded.
The DCFS monthly reports are used in appropriation committees where lawmakers discuss the allocation of resources where they are most needed.
Feigenholtz said she is willing to file additional resolutions to ensure reports and data are not being withheld -- but that this shouldn't be the only way to obtain information. "We are all very, very concerned about the lack of transparency, the lack of discussion, the lack of conversation," she said.