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McHenry County state's attorney seeks more local control over DCFS

State Rep. Steve Reick (left), R-Woodstock, and McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally discuss the opioid crisis Jan. 24 at the McHenry County Government Center in Woodstock.
State Rep. Steve Reick (left), R-Woodstock, and McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally discuss the opioid crisis Jan. 24 at the McHenry County Government Center in Woodstock.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally is pushing for more local control over Department of Children and Family Services operations in the county.

Kenneally wrote a letter addressing problems within DCFS, saying that the responsibility for protecting children in the community should fall to the community.

State Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, recently was appointed to a task force dedicated to studying the compensation and workload of child welfare workers and what role those factors play in recruitment and retention of those workers. The task force, named the Task Force for Strengthening Child Welfare Workforce for Children and Families, established by Public Act 100-879, also aims to examine the effect turnover has on safety and permanence for children.

Reick shared excerpts of Kenneally’s letter in a recent social media post.

“DCFS workers are inserted into a countywide, multidisciplinary investigatory system, which includes police, prosecutors, judges, social workers, [court-appointed special advocates], child advocacy center employees, foster parents and guardian ad litems,” Kenneally wrote. “It is the collective responsibility of all these participants to protect children.

“DCFS, by investigating suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, plays a critical role in having the first contact with the mandated reporters’ allegations. Through its investigations, DCFS is responsible for bringing those children in need of protection to the attention of the other participants who, through the system, provide that protection.”

In order for the system to work effectively, the involved parties have to work together with coordination and cohesion, especially related to ultimate goals and results, Kenneally wrote.

“In this regard, however, DCFS is somewhat insoluble,” he wrote. “I do not mean to suggest that many DCFS workers are not deeply concerned with the well-being of children and doing their jobs right. However, problems and shortcomings with the other DCFS workers that affect the whole system are not easily resolved because DCFS workers, who are ultimately state employees, are not part of the local system in a strict sense.”

Kenneally said he also noticed a perceived self-awareness from DCFS leadership that the system ultimately is flawed, overly bureaucratic and unresponsive. When problems arise with workers, “there is only so much they can do.”

“We are also aware of an unfortunate part of DCFS culture wherein commitments to bright lines regarding workers’ rights, DCFS protocols and procedures, and specifically assigned duties, can take precedence over results and fulfillment of ends,” Kenneally wrote.

Kenneally urged legislation that would allow for greater local control over DCFS operations through county government.

“The primary responsibility for protecting children in a community should belong to the community, not the state,” he wrote. “Moreover, and in my opinion, the agents designated to protect children in a community should be primarily accountable to the community, not the state.”

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