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Editorial: Don’t trim at-risk kids out of state budgets

DCFS workers fight against budget cuts ThompsCenter downtown Chicago Wednesday Sept 19 2012. | Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

DCFS workers fight against the budget cuts at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago on Wednesday Sept 19, 2012. | Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 9, 2013 6:13AM

When children are in an emergency situation, adults must act.

The budget cuts for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services are tantamount to an emergency. A new report shows that the number of children killed in domestic situations jumped 58 percent in Cook County last year.

DCFS is responsible for investigating every one of those cases, along with 250,000 hot line calls a year. If you do the math, since July 1 DCFS has received a report of the death of a child by alleged abuse or neglect every 36 hours on average from somewhere in Illinois even as the agency’s budget was cut by a total of $86 million last year.

But any hope for a last-minute restoration of funding before the current General Assembly calls it quits on Wednesday morning seems faint. And there’s no sign that when the new General Assembly is sworn in at noon Wednesday that DCFS will be at the top of the agenda.

To find money for DCFS, Gov. Pat Quinn pushed hard to close under-used or unnecessary prisons and adult transition centers. One prison has had no prisoners since July.

A court ruling late last year cleared the way for closing those four state prisons and juvenile detention centers.

Now the General Assembly has to act. If it doesn’t, up to 1,957 DCFS workers — two-thirds of the staff — could lose their jobs in March, the agency says.

With more money, DCFS could hire 138 new investigators to knock on doors where abuse and neglect is suspected.

More foster families could be recruited. More specialists could be brought on board to reunite children with their parents or move them quickly toward a permanent adoption.

That’s a better option than more children winding up dead.

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