Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today introduced Bryan Samuels as his choice to
fill the director's post at the troubled Illinois Department of Children
and Family Services.
At the same
time, Blagojevich outlined the findings and recommendations made by the
task force he created in early February to thoroughly investigate the
ongoing failures and successes of DCFS.
state is the last resort for thousands of children who are removed from
dangerous or neglectful homes. I take that responsibility very seriously
and I will make every effort to ensure the safety and well being of these
children," said Blagojevich. "Step one is to figure out exactly
where DCFS is falling short in its responsibilities, and step two is to
put a leader in place who can implement the reforms that are needed to
fix the system. We've done both of those things."
36, has been working vigorously at assessing the needs of the agency over
the last two months while serving as chair of the Governor's DCFS task
force. He will be paid $127,600 to serve as the agency's new director.
as a juvenile justice and housing policy expert for Chicago Metropolis
2020. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago's School
of Social Service Administration.
Before joining Chicago Metropolis 2020, Samuels spent more than 10 years
working with governments in seven states to improve the efficiency and
effectiveness of their health, human service and child welfare programs.
He worked as a liaison between then Governor Thompson and seven human
service agencies. While at the National Center for Family Centered Practice,
Samuels led an interdisciplinary team of program and policy specialists
that worked with state child welfare agencies to expand their continuum
of services to include family preservation services. As a Deputy Director
of Health and Human Services for State of Nebraska, he provided critical
insight and direction for the development of a unified health and human
service agency. In Missouri, he worked with the state to redesign its
case management system for AFDC to meet the new requirements under TANF.
In Rhode Island and Kentucky, he worked with state agencies to create
school-based family resource centers.
up on Chicago's south side. His widowed mother struggled with mental illness
and chemical dependency and, eventually, turned over care of her three
sons to the Glenwood School for Boys. Samuels lived at the school until
he graduated from high school and moved to South Bend, Indiana, to attend
Notre Dame. After earning his bachelor's degree in economics, he went
on to earn a master's degree in public policy from the University of Chicago
Bryan's professional experience qualifies him to lead DCFS during this
time of crucial reform, I also considered his unique life experience when
choosing him for this job. He knows first-hand what challenges young people
face when they are removed from their homes," said Blagojevich. "Now,
equipped with an in-depth understanding of the agency's problems and a
blueprint for change, he can put his professional and personal experience
to work to turn things around."
task force was directed by the governor to determine the state's child
welfare needs, assess the department's ability to meet child welfare needs,
highlight the successes and failures, and present comprehensive recommendations
with different areas of expertise joined Samuels on the task force:
Catherine Ryan, an attorney who has worked for the Cook County State's
Attorney on issues of juvenile placement;
Walker Kendrick, who has served in local and federal government positions
and is a consultant to a coalition of child care programs;
Ann Daro, an accomplished scientist in child development and child abuse
Walker, who has worked extensively with children who live in the inner-cities;
- Dr. Daniel
Cuneo, a psychologist who currently serves on a panel of volunteer professionals
that reviews DCFS infant death cases; and
Blagojevich, the First Lady of Illinois.
force divided into two working groups - the case review group and the
systems group. The case review group focused on specific cases to ascertain
how current policies, procedures and best practices are implemented. The
systems group focused on the overall policy environment the agency functions
under and the agency's budgetary and management structure.
of meetings with child welfare experts as well as DCFS staff and administrators,
the task force today released the 50-page report of its findings.
force commended DCFS for making progress in a number of areas: adoption
rates have increased, the average length of stay in foster care has decreased,
the number of re-abuse cases is lower, and the agency is doing a better
job of accessing federal funding.
are still glaring problems in the state's child welfare system. The task
force found that as a result of increased adoption and private guardianship
rates throughout the nineties, the profile of an average DCFS ward has
changed dramatically. The agency is now dealing with a much older, severely
troubled client who has likely been in the system for a number of years
because permanent placements have not been found him or her. The needs
of this "new" child welfare population are not adequately being
force highlighted six primary areas of concern:
- No effort
is taken to prevent abuse and neglect in known at-risk families. Of
the thousands of calls DCFS receives regarding alleged cases of abuse
or neglect, only 27% are eventually substantiated, and only 5% actually
result in a new case. In many of the instances when accusations can
be substantiated, but the cases are not serious enough to warrant a
child's removal from the home, no follow-up or supportive services are
initiated that could prevent future problems.
- The agency
defines "success" as meeting federal and state requirements
to place wards in permanent settings, rather than measuring the quality
of care and individual success achieved by each ward. Little time and
energy is spent monitoring the ongoing progress children are making
once placed, or evaluating placement factors that may prevent children's
- The reasons
for and impact of multiple placements have not been fully assessed.
In a rush to find permanent placements, the agency sometimes fails to
prepare foster parents or adoptive families for the specific needs of
troubled children. As a result, ill-prepared caregivers resign from
their duties and the children in their custody are placed into new homes,
which can significantly exacerbate a child's behavioral and emotional
- The department's
contracting policies do not encourage consistent quality service or
allow for flexibility in making placement decisions that meet a child's
- DCFS faces
a shortage of direct service staff, especially in the Southern Region,
as well as a lack of ongoing training and support to enable staff to
meet the changing needs of the client population.
the introduction of innovative ideas and reforms in the last five years,
DCFS has had limited success in implementing on a broad scale programs
and services that are known to improve the efficiency and quality of
force made a number of specific recommendations to put DCFS in a better
position to meet the needs of the children and families it serves.
coordination with existing services and through creation of new programs,
DCFS should make a wide range of mental health services available to
children while they are in the department's care, and continuing after
they leave the department's care.
- In order
to fulfill its mission to pursue family re-unification whenever possible,
DCFS should make comprehensive substance abuse services available to
parents with substance abuse problems, and should train child welfare
caseworkers and foster parents in recognizing and dealing with substance
- DCFS should
recognize and actively seek ways to correct the disproportionate representation
of African American children in the child welfare system.
- As the
number of state-supported adoptions and subsidized guardianships continues
to rise, DCFS should improve methods of tracking post-adoptive cases
and should provide support services to adoptive parents and adopted
children to ensure the long-term success of the adoptions.
should establish a unit with the sole responsibility of reviewing and
monitoring missing children's cases. In addition, it should develop
intervention services that focus on teenage girls, the most likely population
to run away, and look into alternative placement options for runaways
once they are located.
- As more
DCFS wards reach their late teens, the agency should develop a comprehensive
program that better prepares young people as
they exit the child welfare system and prepare for self-sufficiency.
to thank each and every member of this task force for working so diligently
over a relatively short period of time to create this blueprint for change,"
Blagojevich to members of the task force. "I am confident that under
Bryan Samuels' leadership the department will use your recommendations
as its guide for the future, and you will see that your work was not in
the end of my four-year term, I believe we will have a Department of Children
and Family Services that can serve as a national model because of its
effectiveness in meeting the needs of abused and neglected children."