A Better Government Association examination of the Illinois Department of Family and Children Services revealed the agency is battling a crisis under the watch of child welfare chief Marc Smith.

The BGA obtained court permission to review dozens of confidential juvenile court files, interviewed numerous agency employees, and dug out several years of internal data on child placements and worker caseloads.

“We found that hundreds of Illinois foster children are being held improperly for weeks or months in detention centers, in shelters, in psychiatric hospitals long after doctors have cleared them for release,” said David Jackson, senior investigative reporter with the BGA.

Jackson said legislators on both sides of the aisle told the BGA that it’s time for Governor JB Pritzker to hone this problem.

“One judge in fact has cited the director of DCFS 11 times for being in contempt of court for not appearing to testify about cases of children improperly held,” said Jackson.

In an interview with the Better Government Association, Smith acknowledged the problems, but rebuffed his many critics and defended his record.

“Three years sounds like a long time. But it is not,” Smith told the BGA. “A lot of these critics are the same critics who have been a part of this system for years, making the same complaints,” Smith added. “I am willing to take the time and take the hits and take the punishment and take the disrespect because I believe that we are doing the right thing.”

Smith said improvements are in the works, but “these aren’t things that happen overnight.”

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