Illinois’ child welfare agency bashed by bipartisan committee over day care rule

Father and son walking to school
A father taking his son to school. (xavierarnau/Getty Images)

Illinois’ child welfare agency bashed by bipartisan committee over day care rule

(The Center Square) – The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took a verbal lashing Tuesday from the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules Tuesday for how the agency has proposed rules regulating day care operations.

Over the summer, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules suspended a DCFS rule limiting how long day care assistants can monitor rooms of children under 2 years old. The rule restricted assistants from monitoring rooms for no more than 90 minutes upon opening and closing. That was modified from three hours upon opening and closing the agency allowed during the pandemic.

The bipartisan JCAR called for more information after being told there were hundreds of founded complaints filed against child care centers over this issue.

DCFS Deputy Director of Licensing Shontée Blankenship told JCAR in July the department has received more than 300 complaints about the issue since 2019. More than 290 were substantiated, she said.

“These numbers clearly show that leaving an assistant alone without a qualified teacher is a safety concern that cannot be ignored,” Blankenship said.

A public records request filed by The Center Square found of a total of 305 complaints filed between Jan. 1, 2019, and July 11, 2023, and there were only 52 substantiated complaints.

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said the committee was misled.

“These are two completely different pictures and information that was provided to this committee to justify why you are trying to enforce this rule,” Rezin said Tuesday.

State Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, said DCFS is a “national embarrassment.”

“We don’t come to you. I’ll never come to you for anything. You will need me before I need you. You will need this committee before we need you and this is a bipartisan disdain for your department,” Tarver said.

State Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, asked officials from the agency how they are not embarrassed by the continued problems around the day care rule.

“I’m not saying the work that you are doing is not hard, but how do you guys continue to lie to this committee, lie to providers, because you’re not the ones who are having to figure out the child care centering,” Castro said.

Castro suggested she may have to legislate child care licensing away from DCFS altogether.

“Because honestly, you need to focus on the one thing that right now you’re doing horribly on, is taking care of the kids who are in our care,” Castro said. “Maybe that should be all of your focus and your mission should be redriven.”

Castro went further to say the way DCFS has conducted this portion of rule making is “disgraceful” and she won’t be forgetting it.

After being further admonished by the committee, JCAR approved a motion objecting to the rules.

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