Nearly six months into the job overseeing the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Beverly “B.J.” Walker doesn’t hesitate when asked about her most difficult moments. She describes two cases: a troubled teen whose life DCFS could not straighten out, and a toddler who died after being left alone for days.
These are the day-to-day realities of working in child protective services — stark and revolting stories of death and abuse, confounded by the strictures of bureaucracy and politics. Even for Walker, who arrived at DCFS with decades of government experience, simply getting information on specific cases has been challenging. Technology that might help staff anticipate problems isn’t available in a state besieged with legacy debt. That makes it difficult to “get a gauge on how deep the mud is,” she said during a recent Tribune Editorial Board visit.
That mud can seem epic. DCFS for decades has been stuck, thanks to turnover, scandal and tragedy. Can Walker turn it around?
She arrived at DCFS in June after the abrupt departure of George Sheldon, who was Gov. Bruce Rauner’s first pick to oversee the agency. Sheldon, a child welfare expert from Florida, resigned amid an ethics probe into questionable contracts that were awarded to friends and former business associates. He also left during ongoing investigations into several high-profile child deaths, including 17-month-old Semaj Crosby of Joliet Township, who was found dead under a couch. Eleven DCFS investigations into her home during a two-year period did not save her from tragedy.
Sadly, that has been the pattern at the agency for years. Nine directors or acting directors have left since 2011, largely due to in-house scandals or highly publicized cases of child abuse. Directors come, directors go. Will that cycle end with Walker, who says she plans to stay no matter who the governor is? Because quality and stability at the top are crucial to improving services for kids. We believe that.
Subscribe To OurWeekly Update
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.