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Don’t medicalize DCFS’ system

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, May 14, 2019  |  Letter to Editor  |  Michelle Weidner

DCFS (30)

Protecting children from child abuse requires a timely, effective system that holds caseworkers accountable, promotes transparency and quickly weeds out unnecessary investigations to ensure that limited child welfare resources can be dedicated to protecting children who are actually being abused.


Child abuse doctors Dr. Jill Glick, Dr. Raymond A. Davis and Dr. Kathy Swafford (“Do more to protect kids,” Voice of the People, May 1) are committing fundamental errors through their proposals regarding the Department of Children and Family Services after the tragic deaths of AJ Freund and Ja’hir Gibbons.


While we favor prompt response times to hotline calls and stopping delays in medical assessments where necessary, spending state money on a medicalized system will not weed out the fraud and incompetence that contributed to the recent deaths.


The doctors say “our hearts go out to all (DCFS) workers because … an error in decision-making in either direction can result in either a child’s death or a child being taken away from a loving home.” This empathy is misplaced. In Ja’hir’s case, the DCFS investigator allegedly falsified reports. And in AJ’s, many signals of danger were missed or ignored.


The majority of child welfare cases involve substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and poverty. Fewer than 15 percent of the cases involve injuries that do call for a truly multidisciplinary medical assessment.

Even when there are medical conditions involved, DCFS caseworkers remain the first line of response. A child abuse pediatrician doesn’t possess a crystal ball that tells him or her that a parent caused a particular medical sign or symptom. They need to consult with other pediatric specialists — including pediatricians, orthopedists, neurosurgeons, hematologists, toxicologists or geneticists — or they will miss underlying medical conditions. For some cases, detailed work-ups are essential. But a child abuse doctor on every case would add layers of delay, resulting in continued tragedies.


— Michelle Weidner, executive director, and Mary Broderick, board member, Family Justice Resource Center, Peoria