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Illinois Senate could address child services problems during COVID-19 pandemic

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Monday, September 14, 2020  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Child welfare (30) , DCFS (30) Syverson, Dave--State Senate, 35

(The Center Square) – A virtual hearing Monday of the Illinois Senate Human Services Committee could address problems with the Department of Children and Family Service and mandatory reporting from schools during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

The hearing's posting said it's a subject matter hearing on "Family First Program, Intact Family Services, Mandated Reporting in Schools during COVID, and the Death or Serious Life-Threatening Injury Report prepared by DCFS."

State sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said DCFS had problems before COVID-19 and Monday’s hearing could address child abuse going unreported because there is less in-person instruction at public schools, among other issues.

“It’s a big frustration that educators are not looking at the total wellness and the outcomes of the results of their decisions to keep schools closed,” said Syverson, a minority spokesman on the committee.

That’s just one issue from mitigations the government put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. While numbers won’t be audited for some time, public health officials report increased suicide and drug overdoses as well.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his administration is working to provide services.

“Telehealth for example, which you can do safely in a COVID-19 environment,” Pritzker said. “Look, we’re looking at every aspect of how this is affecting our families and trying to deal with those.”

Syverson said evidence shows students with health risks should learn remotely, but healthy kids should be back in school. His guess is decisions will be made to resume school after the election.

“It’s a political issue more now than it is a healthcare issue and after the election, we’ll be surprised at how quickly the COVID issue is resolved,” Syverson said.

Pritzker dismissed the option of generally reducing mitigations because of the mounting society impacts from unreported child abuse, domestic violence, overdose and suicide.

“Again, you’re trying to balance here the healthcare that is being so damaged by this pandemic,” Pritzker said.

Of nearly 35,000 total hospital beds, on Friday there were around just 1,600 COVID-19 symptom patients. The peak COVID-19 hospitalizations state public health officials reported was more than 5,000 on April 28.

Monday’s hearing is among the first public hearing on a COVID-19-related issue with state government months into the crisis being unilaterally handled by Pritzker’s administration. Frustrations from both sides of the aisle have centered around a lack of cooperation between the Legislature and the governor’s office.

The hearing will be virtual and streamed online at ILGA.gov, where people can also submit witness slips.