Twenty-six years ago, a little boy in Chicago died a horrible death, and everybody learned the wrong lessons. Can the child welfare system – and the media – do better this time?
UPDATE, SEPTMEBER 15, 2020: The child welfare system has given its answer, and it is a resounding, and depressing “No.” Between fiscal years 2018 and 2020 the number of children torn from their homes in Illinois has skyrocketed 30%. The 17% increase in 2019 alone was the second highest increase in the country that year. In fact, even as the number of children taken over the course of a year nationwide approaches a 21-year low, the number taken in Illinois has hit a 21-year high.
|The story I wrote for the Chicago Reader in 1995.|
The harm of foster-care panic
When DCFS actually improved
Enter Chapin Hall
The research center Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago is expected next month to issue what [Gov. J.B.] Pritzker called “actionable recommendations” into how the DCFS’s Intact Family Services Unit functions.
But Chapin Hall has shared one conclusion in a press release: “With the lowest foster care entry rate in the nation, Illinois has a high threshold for child removal.”
● The low rate of removal in Illinois is driven almost entirely by Cook County. It’s not unusual for big cities to have lower rates of removal than their surrounding states, possibly because caseworkers in big cities may see more poverty and are less likely to confuse that poverty with neglect.
Then how do we fix this?
A test for Illinois media
** - The DCFS Inspector General gives a higher figure for deaths known to the system. But it appears she also uses a much broader definition of "known to the system" - any child who was the subject of a call to the state child abuse hotline. So while her figures show more needles, her comparison involves a much larger haystack. Also, as the Chicago Tribune points out, the Inspector General's figures don't indicate how many of these deaths were due to abuse and neglect.