FEB 16, 2022
Legislation to boost DCFS worker safety, child rights gain momentum as department remains in hot seat
Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield), center, speaks during a news conference Tuesday with Rep. Sandy Hamilton (R-Springfield), right, and Sen. Sally Turner (R-Beason), left.
Lawmakers in Springfield took several more steps Tuesday to address issues at the Department of Children and Family Services, (DCFS,) as state leaders clamor for tighter employee safety rules after a case worker was murdered on the job last month.
The House moved a bill out of committee that makes additions to the Foster Children’s Bill of Rights, and Republicans introduced new legislation to give DCFS employees protection in the field.
The department has been heavily scrutinized during the last six weeks after a case worker was killed during a home visit near Springfield and the department’s director Marc Smith was found in contempt of court three times by a Cook County judge for failing to place children in an adequate care setting. Lawmakers have filed several pieces of legislation to try to address these issues in the first month of session.
On Tuesday, Sen. Steve McClure (R-Springfield) announced he filed legislation (SB4165) to allow DCFS case investigators in the field to carry mace, which is currently prohibited by department policy.
“The goal with this bill is to give that person that’s going to encounter [a threat in the field] in the future the opportunity to potentially escape because right now they are totally defenseless,” McClure said in a news conference.
Republicans have filed several bills designed to bolster DCFS worker safety this year, including one proposal from Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) that would reinstitute the death penalty for people convicted of murdering a DCFS employee, and another that would allow employees to carry guns. McClure said Tuesday he believes his bill is a more realistic proposal that can pass the General Assembly. He said he has gotten support from AFSCME for his bill and is working with DCFS and the governor’s office.
McClure said Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest) will also be a co-sponsor. Morrison’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
“There is no way to absolutely guarantee the safety of DCFS employees, but this will offer them an additional and important tool,” McClure said.
The legislation would require the Illinois State Police to train DCFS workers on self-defense and how to properly use pepper spray.
“We issue staff phones and laptops to do their jobs,” said former DCFS employee Deanna Large in a news conference. “Self-defense tools such as mace or pepper spray — that’s just another tool. It’s as essential as those phones and laptops.”
Rep. Sandy Hamilton (R-Springfield) said she carries pepper spray with her as a real estate agent as a precaution going into vacant homes with strangers.
“I cannot imagine having children to protect,” Hamilton said in a news conference.
Sen. Sally Turner (R-Beason), another sponsor of the bill, said they will continue working on the legislation with DCFS, Democrats and the governor’s office and will amend a shell bill since the date for passing new legislation out of committees has passed.
In the House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee Tuesday, Rep. Tom Morrison (R-Palatine) was able to pass a bill (HB5418) amending the Foster Children’s Bill of Rights. Advocates in favor of the bill said the goal is to provide more clarity on what is going on to foster kids.
“I came into the system very confused and I didn’t feel like I was protected,” former foster child Trea Jackson told the committee.
Morrison’s bill, which passed unanimously but will be amended further, makes changes to the bill of rights to help children recognize signs of abuse from adults, receive counseling services and establishes a right to have the ability to transition out of foster care rather than wait until they’re an adult so long as they can become self-sufficient.
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