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.
"The 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."
Samuels, 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.
Samuels works 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
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-Gov. 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
Samuels grew 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, Ind., 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 in 1993.
"While 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 firsthand 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."
The DCFS 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
Six individuals with different areas of
expertise joined Samuels on the task force:
--Sister Catherine Ryan, an attorney
who has worked for the Cook County state's attorney on issues of
--Judith Walker Kendrick, who has
served in local and federal government positions and is a consultant
to a coalition of child care programs.
--Deborah Ann Daro, an accomplished
scientist in child development and child abuse prevention.
--Gilbert 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.
--Patti Blagojevich, the first lady of
The task 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.
After dozens of meetings with child
welfare experts as well as DCFS staff and administrators, the task
force released the 50-page report of its findings.
The task 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.
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But there 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 '90s, 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
The task 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
percent are eventually substantiated, and only 5 percent 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 progress.
--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
--The department's contracting policies
do not encourage consistent quality service or allow for flexibility
in making placement decisions that meet a child's best interest.
--DCFS faces a shortage of direct
service staff, especially in its Southern Region, as well as a lack
of ongoing training and support to enable staff to meet the changing
needs of the client population.
--Despite 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
The task 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.
--Through 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 reunification 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 abuse
--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.
--DCFS 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
--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.
"I want 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 vain."
"By 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
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