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Child Welfare Caseworkers Ask For 'Emergency Funding'

Child welfare workers are calling on Illinois lawmakers to better fund private services.

That comes after Governor J.B. Pritzker announced plans to overhaul the Department of Children and Family Services’ Intact Family Services unit, which supports families after they’ve been investigated for abuse or neglect.

The private organizations that provide those services are asking for $30.7 million in “emergency funding” to address what they call a workforce crisis.

Andrea Durbin, CEO of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth, said nearly half of private caseworkers leave the industry due to low pay and high demand.

“All we do if we refuse to invest is provide fewer services and resources,” Durbin said. “Back in the ’90s — when DCFS’ population exploded — we had kids sleeping in offices, kids in hotel rooms. We would hate to see it come back to that.”

More than 80 percent of youth in Illinois’ child welfare system are cared for by private organizations, Durbin said. And while the number of children in DCFS care doesn’t depend on the budget, outcomes do.

Brenda Cotton has been a foster parent for 11 years. She said caseworker turnover has serious consequences for children.

“Every time a worker changes, the reality is that something could get missed or delayed,” Cotton said. “Not because they’re not conscientious or because they’re not competent. Their caseloads are too high.”

Advocates say each change in caseworker extends a child’s time in the system by six months.

In addition to paying private caseworkers more, the “emergency funding” would go toward services like early childhood education and substance abuse treatment.

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