Pritzker to make no leadership changes to embattled child welfare agency

(The Center Square) ā€“ Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker says Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith will keep his job despite ongoing issues within the department.

Smith has received eight contempt of court orders after DCFS failed to place youth in proper care in a timely manner. There is also a fresh lawsuit filed against the department concerning the placement of youth.

In early January, a 248-page report released by the Illinois Inspector General showed that in 2022, nearly 50 more children died while in the custody of DCFS than in 2021.

Pritzker was asked about the status of the director’s job at an unrelated event Wednesday and confirmed Smith would be back.

“We haven’t made all of the announcements as we have about 25 or 26 agencies that we need to announce the appointments and reappointments for, so he [Smith] will be in a subsequent batch of those announcements,” Pritzker said.

Many state lawmakers have called upon the governor to implement changes within the department and its leadership. State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, called called for Smith’s replacement on Facebook nearly a year ago.

“I think change has to start with the naming of a new director,” Ugaste said. “When a director has been held in contempt on 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.”

State Rep. Tom Weber, R-Lake Villa, who filed a request for an audit of the department in April 2022, also called for Smith to be replaced.

“This annual report shows a 40% increase in deaths in children who were on DCFS’s radar,” Weber said. “Governor Pritzker may not want to admit it because he chose Director Smith as his guy to control the agency, but it is clear it is time for a change.”

In April, Pritzker was asked about these issues and blamed Republicans and his predecessor.

“The very people who are holding a press conference downstairs are the same people who voted with [former Illinois Gov.] Bruce Rauner to underfund that agency, indeed, to provide no funding at all,” Pritzker said last spring.

The Department of Children and Family Services receives $1.5 billion in taxpayer money annually.

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