Illinois child-welfare agency falters while abuse claims jump

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — An audit finds that there was an 11% increase in child abuse and -neglect investigations from 2015 to 2017 while the state's timeliness in responding to complaints and in completing investigations slowed and investigators' caseloads violated a federal consent decree.

The review of the Department of Children and Family Services released Tuesday by Auditor General Frank Mautino made 13 recommendations for improvement. It covered the period from 2015 to 2017 but DCFS is again facing withering criticism for its role in the deaths of three children since January.

Lawmakers ordered the audit after the May 2017 death of 16-month-old Semaj Crosby of Joliet and after media reports of abuse in foster care suffered by Laquan McDonald. A Chicago police officer fatally shot the unarmed black teen in fall 2014.

A bipartisan group of Illinois lawmakers is aiming at failures in Illinois' child-welfare agency beginning with legislation to improve oversight of its most sensitive cases.

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and more than a dozen other House and Senate members convened Tuesday, May 7, to announce a child-welfare reform caucus after a string of deaths of children under the watch of the Department of Children and Family Services. The latest came with the April 24 discovery of the body of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund in a shallow grave in suburban Chicago. AJ had multiple contacts with DCFS. His parents have been charged with murder and other crimes.

Feigenholtz's legislation would require an ongoing internal audit of 5% of all DCFS cases in which there was not enough evidence to sustain allegations of abuse or neglect. It requires review to see that all procedures were followed.

A state audit released Tuesday found that during 2015-2017, DCFS was slow to respond to allegations , slow to close cases, and did not always document it had followed all procedures in abuse investigations.

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