New DCFS chief commits to change

Brock A. Stein | 10/18/2017, 3:35 p.m.
‘We never get it right enough to stop changing,’ said Beverly “BJ” Walker in Joliet on Tuesday.
DCFS Director Beverly “BJ” Walker with State Senator Pat McGuire (left) and Will County Board member Herb Brooks (right) answers questions at a public forum held in Joliet on Tuesday. Walker was in town to address reforms that have been enacted following the death of Joliet toddler Sema’j Crosby in April. Photo by Brock A. Stein

Following the death of a toddler in April, calls for reform have led to changes at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services starting with a new head of the agency.

DCFS Director Beverly “BJ” Walker met with community members in Joliet this week during a public forum at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church to address questions and concerns. The forum was organized by members of Safety Alliance for Families Everywhere (SAFE) and State Senator Pat McGuire.

Walker said that the agency has already instituted some changes during her four-month tenure following the death of Sema’j Crosby in April. The 17-month old was reported missing a few hours after a DCFS case worker visited the home where she was later found dead from asphyxia under a couch.

Walker said that the only constant in the field of child welfare is change, a concept that is not always embraced by government agencies or the people who work there.

“We never get it right enough to stop changing,” said Walker.

“We’re not always going to get it right but we should always be accountable for when we get it wrong.”

That accountability has led to some changes already she said as the agency moves to hire more staffers, and get caseloads adjusted to more manageable levels.

“We have to get caseloads right,” she said which she said is a difficult challenge in the face of a bureaucracy resistant to change.

In addition, the agency is rolling out a new 360 degree casework program that takes a more comprehensive look at the resources each family needs from DCFS, something she called “casework at it best.” That includes bringing in community resources to serve families in need.

“Some families need us to be involved with them more than others,” she said.

She said that the changes are part of her commitments to the community to make those changes to improve services and safety for kids served by DCFS.

Walker said that she’s working to give regional and local agencies more flexibility to divert resources to sub-contracted caseworkers when a “family’s needs exceeds what’s in the contract.”

Walker said that other changes being instituted include creating more open lines of communication between departments including investigators and case workers and looping in managers at the regional and local level as well.

She said that investigators will also now know when a previous investigation took place at a home so that repeated calls can lead to a closer look.

DCFS workers will also look more closely at homes that include children ages 0 to 3 years old because “babies can’t talk”; in homes where parents are dealing with a disability; and places with a rotating cast of new faces are answering the door during visits.

“It doesn’t mean it’s bad it just means we’re going to take a closer look,” said Walker.

And, she said that case workers will be better versed at knowing the difference between a dirty house and toxic one. In the case of Crosby, investigators described the home’s condition as deplorable, but Walker said that the agency can’t take kids from parents just on the basis of the home being dirty.