CHICAGO – A significant number of new child abuse or neglect investigators will be added to the Department of Children and Family Services workforce under an agreement reached between the State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. The ACLU represents all children in the Illinois foster care system as part of a consent decree that has guided reforms in the state’s child welfare agency for more than twenty years.

The agreement, filed in federal district court in Chicago today, is meant to address concerns about DCFS’ investigators having high caseload assignments, a situation that has grown to crisis proportions over the past few months. Under the consent decree guiding DCFS operations, investigators can be assigned no more than twelve (12) new child abuse or neglect investigations per month. These limits help insure that investigators are able to respond quickly and make a timely assessment of threats to a child’s safety and make better decisions about where a child should live – that is, whether a child cannot safely remain with his or her parents.

As part of the plan to address child safety, DCFS has agreed to fill more than 100 additional investigator positions by January 1, 2013. And, the state has agreed to take interim steps to alleviate the burden that current investigators are facing and to advance child safety.

“Conditions inside DCFS had reached a tipping point,” said Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU of Illinois. “Recent budget cuts, combined with a degradation of front-line services over the past few years, threaten to wipe out important gains made in reforming the system in the past two decades. The plan presented to the court today is an important step toward reversing that trend.”

In recent weeks, DCFS has hired some new investigators and moved several other workers from their previous role into investigator positions. By the beginning of next year, DCFS will fill approximately 117 new investigator positions – a staffing level that should result in maintaining caseloads at levels consistent with the ACLU/DCFS consent decree. While DCFS is filling these positions, the agency also will temporarily contract with retired child protection employees (primarily those who have retired since January 2010) on an emergency basis. These experienced investigators will help the Department move quickly to improve child safety.

“Everyone must work together to insure that available resources are directed to front-line staff – the people who protect and guard the safety and security of children,” added Wolf.

Under the plan, DCFS will report on their progress to the court no later than October 15, 2012.

The ACLU today noted that this plan comes at a critical moment for the operations of DCFS.

“Over the past two decades, Illinois has made important strides improving a once-discredited and disreputable child welfare system,” observed the ACLU’s Wolf. “The State cannot afford to lose that ground.”