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Illinois Senate Democrat pushing for improvements within DCFS, recruitment of child welfare workers

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has struggled to retain long-term employees over the past few years. Lawmakers say that leaves many youth in care constantly meeting different caseworkers. New legislation could help prevent that from happening.

Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest) already filed two bills this year focused on improving DCFS as a whole. Senate bill 176 could establish much needed additional training for new employees. It would also require quality checks on staff throughout their time with the department.

Sen. Morrison said employees might be able to better assess a child's case if they're more equipped for the job.

"The Office of the Inspector General developed a curriculum to basically re-teach and re-train those case workers," said Morrison. "When you see a bruise on a baby, it is a very strong indicator, for example, that this is a problem and you need to recognize it."

Morrison explained the added training could help staff members work their case accordingly. The overall goal of the proposal is to better train DCFS employees and keep them accountable so that Illinois youth can stay safe.

"We want people to be trained"

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 136 could establish an education stipend program to assist Illinois students pursuing a Bachelor or Master's degree in social work.

Through the program, students could be eligible to receive up to $10,000 each year for up to two years. Students must declare interest in taking a job within partnering agencies of DCFS after graduation to get the funding. Morrison said this bill is a crucial step in the department moving forward.

"We want people to be trained and then stay within the organization," said Morrison. "Instead of constantly draining these agencies of qualified people that they just trained."

She feels this will be a good way to "increase the pipeline" for social workers into the child welfare system. Morrison's measure could build up the child welfare work force in hopes of preventing more senseless deaths of children across the state.

Senators could discuss both bills during a Health Committee hearing March 2.

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Ali Rasper

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