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Overworked child protection employees can fail children in need

On Behalf of | Dec 1, 2023 | Child Abuse And Neglect

Children generally cannot advocate for themselves. They often don’t understand the law and have limited access to resources that adults can easily utilize. They may depend on the intervention of professionals, including state employees, when they experience abuse or neglect in their homes.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) performs the same basic role as Child Protective Services (CPS) organizations in other states. This agency receives reports about suspected cases of abuse and neglect. DCFS workers investigate those reports and take action when they deem it necessary for the protection of vulnerable children.

Unfortunately, many children in need of intervention remain in unstable and unsafe home environments. Why do DCFS caseworkers so often fail to help children in dangerous situations?

They have too many cases to pay full attention

A caseworker needs to understand the dynamic in the home to make a reasonable decision about a child’s safety and well-being. They need to know the personality of the adults in the family and develop a rapport with the children so that they feel comfortable speaking up about what they may have experienced.

Unfortunately, most caseworkers do not have the time to devote that level of attention to each child that might be in need of their help. According to a review of caseworker workloads, Illinois has the 10th-highest number of reports or open cases per child protective worker. The average worker has 89 cases or reports to manage at any given time. That is substantially higher than the national average of 64 cases.

Often, caseworkers will struggle to even make contact with families and may have minimal interactions with the children. Parents who understand how the system works can sometimes manipulate the situation to their benefit by asserting their rights to diminish how much of an investigation occurs. The tragic result is that children may remain in unsafe situations when the DCFS should have intervened to remove them or at least educate their parents.

Adults, including concerned co-parents and grandparents, may eventually decide to take legal action when the DCFS objectively fails in its obligation to protect children in volatile situations. While heavy caseloads may explain the failure of DCFS workers, the explanation does not make it okay for children to pay the price for the failure of the state. Taking legal action when the state allows child abuse to progress on checked can help affected families to exercise their rights and demand justice accordingly.