SPRINGFIELD — The state agency charged with investigating child abuse claims continues to flounder when it comes to meeting deadlines for initiating and completing investigations, a new audit notes.
In a report released Wednesday, Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland said the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services saw a significant jump in the number of abuse cases that weren’t determined to be unfounded or credible within a required 60-day timeframe.
The audit found that 884 of nearly 65,000 allegations missed the deadline, compared to 115 of 63,000 the previous year. It was the biggest backlog since 2006, when more than 1,000 cases missed the deadline.
“Failure to make timely determinations of reports of abuse and neglect could delay the implementation of a service plan and result in further endangerment of the child,” Holland wrote in the audit.
The findings come as DCFS has grappled with a number of budget cuts in recent years. The $1.1 billion agency had about 103 fewer employees in 2012 compared to 2010.
But, beginning in January, a reorganization of the agency has resulted in 138 additional child abuse investigators.
Agency spokesman Dave Clarkin said there is currently a backlog of an estimated 300 cases.
“That’s largely because we’ve received a record number of suspicious child deaths this year, which take longer,” Clarkin said Wednesday.
The agency says it receives, investigates and acts upon a report of child abuse or neglect every five minutes, child sex abuse every two hours, and the death of a child by abuse or neglect every day and a half.
Clarkin said 99.6 percent of the cases are initiated within the 60-day time period.
In addition to failing to determine whether some cases are warranted in a timely manner, the agency failed to initiate investigations into every case within a 24 hour time period, the audit found.
For example, in 2012, the audit notes that 274 cases were not launched within 24 hours, up from 116 in 2011. That’s the highest level since at least 2003.
“Failure to respond to a report of abuse or neglect within 24 hours could result in further endangerment to the child,” the audit notes.
Holland also found the agency did not review child deaths in a timely manner
For example, in 2012, auditors found 60 of 85 reviews in 2012 were conducted an average of 158 days after the close of an investigation, instead of the required 90 days. In 2011, 100 or 127 reviews were conducted an average of 209 days after the close of an investigation.
Clarkin said the agency is aware of the delays, but is committed to making sure investigations are thorough.
“These investigations can take a long time,” Clarkin said.