SPRINGFIELD — A performance audit of the Department of Children and Family Services released by the state auditor general this month found substandard practices for caring for LGBTQ youth at the agency.
Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino’s office conducted the review of how DCFS manages lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer youth in its care following the passage of a state Senate resolution greenlighting the audit in 2019.
Mautino’s office found DCFS did not fully implement its own procedures for LGBTQ youth, is unreliable in maintaining consistent information on LGBTQ youth in custody and does not properly monitor or provide oversight to private agencies contracted by DCFS who may deal with LGBTQ youth.
The 154-page report found dozens of issues divided into 15 subjects — from department computer systems, to matching and placement of LGBTQ youth and licensing standards for foster homes — and issued 16 recommendations to DCFS to improve its performance.
Those recommendations include: developing a single, centralized case management system to track all youth in DCFS care; ensuring the matching and placement process formally assesses a youth’s sexual orientation and gender identity when determining need; and recruiting more foster homes affirming of LGBTQ youth.
The audit primarily used data from the 2017 and 2018 calendar year, and Mautino’s office submitted a draft report of his office’s findings to DCFS in January for the agency to issue a response to each recommendation.
According to DCFS, they have addressed or are in the process of addressing many of the concerns listed in the report. The department says they are currently developing a new Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System to serve as a singular case-management system to be operational tentatively by July.
The agency’s response also indicated it began the process of revamping mandated training for child welfare workers and foster parents to address LGBTQ youth concerns in 2020, with the revisions scheduled to be finalized and trainings made available by this year. This includes adding consideration of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression when matching a youth to a placement.
The department has also created a LGBTQI+ Services team that operates under the agency’s Office of Affirmative Action.
DCFS is currently helmed by Acting Director Marc Smith, who has served in that position since being appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on April 15, 2019. The department issued a statement Wednesday after the audit’s release.
According to that statement, many of the problems highlighted in the report were the result of agency practices under former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, and DCFS has made a concerted effort under Smith to improve standards for LGBTQ youth.
“The Department of Children and Family Services, under its current leadership, has taken aggressive measures to improve the services and care provided to LGBTQI+ youth since the time period covered by this audit… In June 2020, (DCFS) Clinical Division and (Office of Affirmative Action) began a coordinated effort to expand programmatic support for LGBTQI+ youth in care,” the statement read.
“The Clinical Division and OAA are working closely together to ensure that DCFS is following best practices for LGBTQI+ youth and their families.”
This week, the ACLU of Illinois issued a statement reacting to the audit’s findings.
“DCFS is not meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth in care as required by its own policy,” Ghirlandi Guidetti, an attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, said in the release. “We regularly hear from youth about the lack of basic respect for their identity as well as the challenges they face accessing affirming medical care. All children deserve the dignity of being respected for their authentic selves and feeling safe. When the state takes children away from their families of origin and into custody, we all are responsible for ensuring safety and dignity are accorded to them.”