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“There’s talk of cutting the budget for a department just weeks removed from an incident that illustrates what can go wrong when children are left in dangerous situations.” - State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign)

SPRINGFIELD – The state’s child welfare director described to lawmakers his department’s “Herculean” task of trying to protect children amid soaring caseloads and dwindling resources, and Senator Scott Bennett says the state should be working to improve conditions, not blindly slash funding that could jeopardize more children.

“There’s talk of cutting the budget for a department just weeks removed from an incident that illustrates what can go wrong when children are left in dangerous situations,” said Bennett.

Bennett’s comments came in response to testimony Wednesday from Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director George Sheldon to a Senate budget committee. Sheldon discussed the heartbreaking death of Semaj Crosby of Joliet, a one-year-old who was left in her parents’ custody despite filthy living conditions observed by a DCFS employee 33 hours before her death.

Sheldon told Senators the incident would be investigated in depth, but offered the dismal reality of his child service agency trying to cope with understaffing, growing caseloads and increases in youth detentions.

While some Republican lawmakers have suggested slashing funding across all agencies by 10 percent, Sheldon has requested an increase of $23.5 million. His agency is under court order to maintain services and predicted that if his budget is cut, the state would quickly find itself in federal court.

“Not having a state budget is problematic at best,” Sheldon said.

Bennett, a former prosecutor, said the tragedies from an overmatched DCFS are obvious and funding cuts won’t make the situation better. He expressed concerns regarding the ranks of DCFS investigators being cut in half in the Champaign office in recent years.

“We already know cutting funding is going to tie their hands at DCFS,” Bennett said. “Now are we going to shoot ourselves in the foot with a possible federal lawsuit as well?

“The Rauner administration simply needs to be better than this when dealing with vulnerable children,” Bennett said.

Category: Press Releases
 

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