CHICAGO — At least a dozen Illinois Department of Children and Family Services workers have been attacked or seriously threatened while trying to protect children or investigate mistreatment allegations since 2013, according to a newspaper’s analysis.
The Chicago Tribune, which examined government and police records, reports the violence can be serious but publicized.
Last week, a DCFS investigator was chocked and pushed by a mother after being called to a Chicago elementary school on a report that the mother’s son had a burned ear. The investigator, a former police detective, was treated at a hospital but not expected to return to work for at least a week, according to the department.
Illinois lawmakers drafted legislation to stiffen criminal penalties for such assaults in the wake of the September beating of DCFS investigator Pamela Sue Knight. She’s been in a coma at a Rockford hospital since being attacked while trying to take protective custody of a child.
“Our staff are first responders. The severe attack was a stark reminder of the dangers of going into these unpredictable and often hostile situations,” said Neil Skene, the department’s senior deputy director.
The legislation, introduced by Republican Rep. Brian Stewart of Freeport, would give DCFS workers the same protections as police, firefighters and peace officers.
Under the proposal, battering a DCFS worker performing his or her official duties would be a Class 1 felony.
“It’s unfortunate an act of violence was inflicted on a DCFS worker in order for legislation to be proposed,” said co-sponsor Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna. “This bill will give DCFS workers the additional legal protections they deserve.”
DCFS officials said they support the bill and are reviewing the department’s policies to protect workers.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 union represents DCFS workers. The union met with DCFS Director Beverly Walker in Springfield last week to discuss the measure and Knight’s attack.
The union has recommended the department improve its training on identifying and de-escalating dangerous situations. The union also wants the department to give workers the option to request police escorts.
“We’re going to work collaboratively with the union to look at our policies and practices and our training on additional ways to deal with these situations,” Walker said.