While there are several big issues that came up this week, like the effective date of the so-called “Safe-T Act”, Speaker Welch’s capitulation on allowing legislative staff to unionize and our ongoing pension hearings, one issue has to take precedence. This week’s Reick Report is going to focus on a single issue: the adverse opinion issued by the Auditor General on its compliance audit of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). I also held a press conference this morning on these audit findings. Expect more follow-up on this issue in next week’s report as well.
Hot Topic of the Week:
DCFS Audit Findings
“Because of the significance and pervasiveness of the findings described within the report, we (the accountants) expressed an adverse opinion on the Department’s compliance with the specified requirements which comprise a State compliance examination. The Codification of Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements (AT-C § 205.74) states a practitioner “should express an adverse opinion when the practitioner, having obtained sufficient appropriate evidence, concludes that misstatements, individually or in the aggregate, are both material and pervasive to the subject matter.”
No business wants to see this language in a report by its auditors. What it generally means is that the financial condition of a company is such that it’s on its last legs, and that the company resorted to such evasions in the face of the auditor’s examination as to give the auditor no choice but to issue an opinion that leaves nothing to the imagination.
In many ways the adverse opinion issued this week by the Illinois Auditor General’s office of its compliance audit of the Department of Children and Family Services is worse, because it deals not only with certain financial irregularities within the agency, but it also shines a harsh light on failure of this agency to protect the children within its care. DCFS exists for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to protect vulnerable children from abuse and neglect. The fact that the agency failed on so many levels, and then saw fit to hide its failures by providing material misstatements boggles the mind.
Among the more egregious failures disclosed in the audit were the following:
- 100% of reports of suspected abuse or neglect of a child while receiving care in a hospital were delayed for anywhere from 34 days to 885 days from the investigation date. The agency’s response was that there was no mechanism to monitor and track field investigators’ notifications due to employee oversight.
- Over $3,000,000 in grants were misreported. The agency cited vacancies and employee error.
- 63% of assaults or threats against DCFS employees were either submitted late or never. The agency attributed this to oversight.
- 96% of indicated sexual abuse notifications to schools were up to 908 days late. The agency responded that investigators were reluctant to violate a “private family matter”.
- 22% of employee evaluations were not done and have been out of compliance since 2008. The agency’s response? “Completing evaluations is not tied to supervisors’ salary increases”.
- 43% of daycare provider licensing reports were not reviewed. The agency said it was due to “lack of resources”.
The Auditor General’s report discloses 33 separate findings, of which 17 were “Category One” findings which are findings that disclose “material weakness in internal control” or “material non-compliance with state laws and regulations”. Another six showed significant deficiencies and non-compliance. Of the 17 Category One violations five of them went back to 2012 and before and three of them were from 1998. You can find a summary of all of the findings here.
While each of the findings came with a recommended fix which the agency agreed to in each case, the reasons given by the agency for its failures follow a consistent pattern. The agency blamed vacancies, lack of resources, turnover, workforce changes and limited source of a knowledge base, competing priorities making it impossible to reach out of state providers, staffing leadership changes, employee turnover, lack of training of technical issues in the reporting system, staffing issues, delay in issuance of employee credentials, retirements, employees working from home, lack of facility managers in each region, workload responsibilities and of course, COVID. These are not reasons for the failures of this agency, they are mere excuses and excuses aren’t good enough. The agency can agree with recommendations all it wants, but until it shows us that it’s serious about following through on those recommendations by actually following through on those recommendations, I’m not going to believe a word it has to say.
I’ve been trying to reform DCFS since 2019. This is not new to me, and since I became the minority spokesman of the adoption and child welfare committee, I made it a point to try to work with this agency. I felt that by working with the agency instead of standing apart from it and doing nothing but criticize, I could help it navigate the changes that need to be made for it to become an agency that’s focused upon its core mission of protecting children from abuse and neglect. The findings of this audit are a slap in the face, a slap in the face to everyone who’s worked so hard to try to understand what’s going on with this agency and what we can do to help.
Responsibility for this adverse opinion lies squarely at the feet of the Governor. The years covered by this audit fall entirely within his administration. While he continues to try to blame previous administrations for the failures of this agency, he owns this. This has happened on his watch; he has full responsibility. He recently ridiculed Republicans for their irrelevance in state government. OK Mr. Governor, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that we are irrelevant and then not take responsibility for failures such as this. He’s really been good and blaming Republicans for not going along with his governing agenda. What he’s really trying to do is force us to share the blame for his administration’s blithering incompetence. He’s left far too many abused and neglected kids in his wake. It’s time he was held responsible for that
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