NASW-IL Statement on the Push for Ineffective Sentence Enhancements
NASW-Illinois Chapter Statement on the Push for Ineffective Sentence Enhancements Rather Than Meaningful Policy Reforms to Protect DCFS Workers
This week, Deidre Silas, an Illinois Department of Child and Family Services investigator, was stabbed to death while responding to report of children who were in danger. This terrible attack follows the attack on Pamala Knight, also a department employee, in 2018. Response from Governor Pritzker has been to back a new bill increasing penalties for harming DCFS workers.
These measures do not address the true crux of the problem—the safety of DCFS employees when working in the field to investigate and protect abused and neglected children. Sentence enhancements like this have historically been proven to be ineffective. While we are not surprised by the state’s response, we are still disappointed to hear the news that the state is continuing to pursue these measures.
As we grieve for the families who are facing the unthinkable tragedies before them, these tragedies were preventable and a result of unsafe and unsupported work environments that ask employees of DCFS to engage in highly dangerous situations without the same precautions afforded to other at-risk professions.
Social workers, case managers, and Investigators at DCFS already have strong enhanced penalty legislation; in fact, they are one of the only professions written into the same legislation protecting legislators. It is a felony to even threaten one of these workers, much less assault one of them, and yet crimes against these workers continue and lives continue to be lost. Make no mistake that the legislation currently being proposed will not prevent the next tragedy at DCFS just as existing penalty enhancements protecting these positions have also failed.
As a state, we need to look critically at existing DCFS policies that place these workers consistently in dangerous environments. We need a complete overhaul on how we do risk assessments on visits, how we create teams to investigate, the training provided to these teams including conflict de-escalation and safety assessments, and what technology for emergency situations are we providing these workers.
Social work is not a calling, it is a licensed profession that demands safe work environments, support, and compensation equal to the risks being asked of them. DCFS has failed to deliver on this, and the questions that should be asked is why and what changes are they making to rectify it?
The murder of Pamala Knight should have been a wake-up call for DCFS and the state and yet, several years later, we are grieving yet another preventable death. Nearly four years later, we are still discussing sentence enhancements that would neither have prevented these tragedies nor will prevent future ones.
As a state we can make meaningful reforms that will prevent future families from having to experience these tragic moments. Our hope is that the Illinois Governor and General Assembly will commit to ending this cycle of tragedies in the department and pass meaningful reforms that prevent violence like this from ever happening against our state workers.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with over 120,000 members. The NASW-Illinois Chapter is one of the association's largest chapters representing over 20.000 licensed Illinois social workers and school social workers, with over 5,000 active members. NASW strives to advance social work careers, grow social work businesses, and protect the profession.