Illinois lawmaker demands change at embattled child services agency

(The Center Square) – State Rep. Dan Ugaste can’t see how Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker can remain silent about all the turmoil now going on at the Department of Children and Family Services.

“We’ve been pressing the governor for over a year now about all the chaos at DCFS and he simply chooses not to respond,” Ugaste told The Center Square. “I’m again calling on him to do something about the situation that only seems to be getting worse by the day.”

In the latest hit to the agency, a new class action lawsuit filed earlier this month alleges the department has “willfully and wrongly” left dozens of children in its care in juvenile jails for months at a time, even after they were ordered to be released.

Filed by the law firm of Lovey & Lovey, the lawsuit further alleges that instead of housing the children in suitable dwellings, the agency has allowed them to remain locked in juvenile jails without access to proper educational, medical and mental health support.

As recently as 2021, there were more than 80 children who were incarcerated despite being ordered released to their guardian under what’s known as a “release upon request,” according to the lawsuit.

Ugaste’s call for change dates to a year ago when he took to Facebook on Jan. 31 to claim Pritzker and DCFS Director Marc Smith are “failing to keep kids safe.” The veteran lawmaker adds it’s clear to him what the first step needs to be in making sure all the kids left under the agency’s care are truly protected.

“I think change has to start with the naming of a new director,” he said. “When a director has been held in contempt numerous occasions for not doing the right thing, new leadership is clearly what’s needed. As the person who oversees it all, the governor doesn’t have the luxury of not responding to those of us that are demanding that we get it right.”

Despite all of the issues, Ugaste said he remains hopeful that the change he feels is needed is on the way.

“We can’t give up on the kids that are so in need. So, I have to feel that way,” he said. “Sometimes when more attention is given to a problem, something happens that causes a change. I’m hoping we can all now work together to make that happen.”

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