Embattled director of Illinois DCFS to resign after 5 years

Marc D. Smith, director of the embattled Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said Wednesday he will leave his post at the end of the year.

The announcement came just a week after the latest knock on the protective-services department, a compliance audit from the state auditor general whose damaging “adverse opinion” found the agency generally out of compliance with state regulations.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's named Smith DCFS director in April 2019. Smith steered the agency during a tumultuous period in which a judge held him in contempt of court repeatedly for failing to adequately house children who had been placed in the department's custody.

Smith's departure was one of three announced by Pritzker on Wednesday. He said Theresa Eagleson, director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services will be replaced by Lizzy Whitehorn, currently an aide to Pritzker for health services.

But the Democratic governor did not name successors for Smith or Paula Basta, who is stepping down at year's end from the helm of the Department on Aging.

In a statement, Pritzker said the three departing administrators “reflect the best of state government — people who have sacrificed to help millions of constituents through their dedication to service.”

Neither Pritzker's office nor DCFS commented on Smith's future plans. Smith, 54, who makes $210,000, came to DCFS from the largest of the private institutions that contract with the agency for services, Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness.

“I am incredibly proud of the profound progress we have made,” Smith said in a statement. “DCFS continues making a difference where it matters most — by keeping children safe, creating brighter futures for the youth in our care and giving hope to families in crisis that need support.”

Trouble has followed DCFS for decades, and Smith had his share. Just after assuming office, Pritzker and he pledged revisions after an outside report commissioned by the new governor found that the agency endangered children in its care by trying to keep biological families intact.

A DCFS caseworker was stabbed to death while making a home visit in January 2022, prompting calls for more protection.

In an extraordinary move, a Cook County judge found Smith in contempt of court multiple times in 2022 for failing to find permanent homes for children in the agency's care, some of whom were sleeping on office floors. Pritzker has repeatedly blamed his Republican predecessor for dismantling private social services during a two-year budget shutdown in which Democrats who controlled the Legislature were equally engaged.

Last week, Auditor General Frank Mautino's report found lapses in timely reporting of suspected abuse, failure to monitor its contractual agencies to ensure they’re doing what they’re supposed to and more.

Pritzker also announced the appointment of Camile Lindsay, first assistant deputy governor on public safety, infrastructure, environment and energy, as director of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Whitehorn's and Lindsay's appointments require Senate confirmation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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