CHICAGO (CBS) -- When kids are removed from their homes over concerns of neglect and abuse, one of the hardest parts of their development is returning home – if, and when the state says it's okay to go back.
A new report into how the state manages those "returns home" is out. CBS 2's Chris Tye reports how it shows the state is failing its most vulnerable in some critical ways.
After being removed from the care of her mother and boyfriend, 2-year-old Tanaja Barnes returned home to Decatur in 2019 where she died from malnutrition and dehydration.
Her death created Tanaja's Law — which triggered a report Thursday from the state's auditor general.
It reviewed how well the state's department of children and family services monitors kids when they return home -- like Tanaja did.
Home safety checklists? DCFS was unable to provide them in 98 percent of cases.
Data on kids being properly immunized? DCFS data was "unreliable".
"It would be an 'F' most definitely. It's disappointing at every indicator that's assessed at this point," said Alpha Patel, Cook County Chief Deputy Public Guardian.
And it gets worse.
Huge chunks of the state's most vulnerable kids are missing physicals, vision tests, hearing screenings, and 88 percent missing at least one dental exam.
Chris: What does this say about the priorities of the state of Illinois?
Alpa: I think it very clearly states that it's not a priority.
Fueling the problem?
21 percent of taxpayer-funded DCFS positions remain vacant.
When pressed on it, DCFS told the Auditor they "Don't have a great answer for this... Whether or not the personnel database is updated to reflect the funding status is not always an immediate top priority."
The unions representing DCFS staffers say problem 1A? Staffing shortages.
"They need more help, and they need the top management of this agency from the director on down to engage with a sense of urgency to hire more and faster to keep kids safe," said Public Affairs Director Anders Lindall.
In a statement DCFS says:
"We have trained thousands of workers, expanded resources to support the child welfare system and addressed the many hiring and staffing challenges facing child welfare organizations."
State legislators who called for this audit say it brings about two key questions. Will Gov. Pritzker continue to stand behind his DCFS boss Marc Smith? And how can they entice more and better staffers to come work for the beleaguered department?
DCFS says they are undertaking significant steps to address these issues -- including a complete replacement of the department's child welfare information systems.
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