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Former DCFS director Richard H. Calica dies after battle with cancer

Richard Calica

Richard Calica

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Updated: January 25, 2014 6:15AM

Richard H. Calica, who just weeks ago left his post as director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, died early Monday morning, Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said.

Calica, 67, had been diagnosed with cancer and had undergone surgery in recent months. He had been DCFS director from December 2011 until last month, when he announced his diagnosis.

“He’s a guy that knows more about child safety and child protection issues than anyone I’ve found in the country,” said Jess McDonald, another former DCFS director who met Calica in the 1970s when the two were graduate students at the University of Chicago School of Social Administration.

Calica’s experience as a lifelong clinical social worker gave him a unique perspective on the DCFS director’s post, McDonald said. It allowed him to connect with employees who do the agency’s front-line work.

“He is so candid about stuff, it’s disarming,” McDonald said. “He didn’t sugarcoat anything. It’s a good thing he wasn’t a chef.”

Before joining Quinn’s administration, Calica was executive director of the Chicago-based Juvenile Protective Association for more than three decades. He also served on the faculty of the Institute for Clinical Social Work and at the Loyola University of Chicago School of Social Work.

Besides holding a master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago, Calica completed a postgraduate fellowship in clinical social work at Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center Division of Psychiatry. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brooklyn College.

Calica, of Highland Park, took over DCFS from Erwen McEwen, who’d resigned amid a contracting scandal involving millions of dollars in state grants. Calica sought to improve the agency’s record on child-safety issues, adding 138 new investigators to DCFS by eliminating management posts and modernizing its hotline system.

“Richard Calica was a dedicated advocate for our most vulnerable children. He always put their safety and well-being first.” Quinn said in a statement. “I send my condolences to Richard’s family and friends. They are in our thoughts and prayers during this most difficult of times.”

Survivors include Calica’s wife, Judy, and a son, Andrew, according to McDonald.

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