Directions in Child Protection
by: Jess McDonald, Director
Illinois, as in most other states, the concept of what constitutes
child protection services is evolving. We no longer accept the notion
that child protection should consist of an investigator whose primary
function is to determine whether a child was abused, who did it, and
whether the child should be removed. This model of intervention can
provide for the immediate safety of a child, but often it establishes
an adversarial relationship with the family. This may make service
provision and long-term risk resolution extremely difficult. The practice
also identifies child abuse and neglect as a DCFS problem that our
staff are to identify, treat and rectify. It moves community agencies,
public service departments, parents, citizens of the community, and
even our own operations staff to a peripheral role. The results have
been fragmented services, a high rate of recurrent abuse, a lack of
appropriate resources, and a low reunification rate for children who
are placed in substitute care.
alleviate these problems, child protection services in Illinois
will replace investigations with assessment, independent actions
with community organizations, and fragmented services with a continuum
of care. All these realignments still conform to the notion that
the safety of the child is paramount. Steps we have taken to reach
these goals include:
partnerships with law enforcement and the State's Attorney to respond
vigorously to cases involving sexual abuse, death, and serious physical
injury. This includes protocols for coordinated investigations of
these types of cases through Child Advocacy Centers where they exist
and through written protocols where they don't.
the Local Area Networks (LANS) to expand their role to include needs
assessments and resource development to meet the needs of children
who have been abused or neglected, but can be safely maintained
at home if interventions are available.
training and educational programs to get staff to focus on engagement
and service assessment from our initial contact until we terminate
services. All Child Protection supervisors have an MSW or are enrolled
in an MSW program. All supervisors and line staff are attending
six weeks of clinical practice retraining, which focuses on engagement
rather than intervention.
in-home services as a child protection function that must continually
focus on safety and risk assessment, and must be closely linked
to the investigation process. In Cook County, intact services teams
have been transferred to the Division of Child Protection in order
to provide for common supervision, administration, and focus.
nine child death review teams to analyze cases where children died
as a result of abuse or neglect. These multidisciplinary teams make
recommendations to the Director as to how practice and/or procedures
need to change to reduce the occurrences of child deaths.
as a member of the Attorney General's Task Force on Violence to
children, which proposes legislation that impacts issues related
to child safety.
investigation and service staff within the community they serve.
A major reason for the breaks in service that have occurred can
be attributed the fact that the investigators and service workers
are often located several miles from each other. Getting complete
accurate information from one unit to the other in a timely manner
can be difficult to manage. In addition to the collocation, we are
requiring investigative staff and service staff to have a face-to-face
meeting to hand off the case, usually with the family present.
addition to these actions, as part of our front end redesign, we are
piloting two models that redefine child protection investigators
job descriptions to become more service-oriented. By combining these
new job descriptions with the activities described above, DCFS child
protection is progressing toward a model that is child-centered, family-focused,