The Joliet office of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services offered gift cards to workers closing the most cases just months before a missing 1-year-old girl's body was found under a couch in a home, a report Saturday said.
The Chicago Tribune reported the existence of the contest a day after the department released a report reviewing its actions leading up to the death of 1-year-old Semaj Crosby. The toddler was found dead April 26 in a Joliet Township home shortly after DCFS closed an investigation into whether she was being neglected.
The contest that began in January awarded $100 gift cards to the two workers who closed the most cases within a month, the report said. The third place winner received a $50 gift card.
It's unclear whether any of the winners were involved in DCFS inquiries at Semaj's home.
DCFS Director George said the contest was improper.
"Offering financial incentives like that I think is an inappropriate step," Sheldon said. "I think the intentions were good, but the way they handled it wasn't."
State Rep. Mary Flowers, a Chicago Democrat who has chaired a recent legislative hearing on DCFS investigations, called the contest "unethical." She called for the agency's inspector general to conduct an immediate investigation into the contest, including the children and families who were affected by cases that may have been closed prematurely.
"Children's lives could have been put at risk because of this bad behavior," Flowers said. "This is not a game."
The DCFS report released Friday said Semaj's family came to DCFS attention in September 2016. The case files involved Crosby, her parents, an aunt and three siblings. The report says that while allegations of inadequate supervision and drug use in the home were unfounded, an intact family case was opened. The action was taken to provide the family with "housing support and parenting assistance."
Sheldon said he does not believe the push to close cases quickly played a role in Semaj's case but said he understands why people "may have that perception."
"We've got to aggressively pursue these cases with a sense of urgency, but I want to make sure that message isn't misinterpreted to cut corners," Sheldon said.
Senior Deputy Director Neil Skene said DCFS is reviewing whether to discipline any supervisors for the contest. The agency is preparing a notification to all staff warning against such incentives, he said.