CHICAGO — The head of Illinois’ child welfare agency announced his resignation during a zoom meeting with staff today, according to participants.
Gov. JB Pritzker appointed Marc Smith to lead the Department of Children and Family Services in April 2019.
Pritzker’s office confirmed the resignation.
DCFS has not responded to inquiries.
Smith’s tenure coincided with a surge in the number of kids being monitored by the agency and a global pandemic that made finding shelter and foster care for kids in crisis extra challenging.
WGN Investigates reported in 2019 that an increasing number of kids were sleeping in DCFS offices due to a lack of appropriate placement options.
Pritzker called the conditions “unacceptable” and Smith vowed to tackle the problem and open “welcome centers” to accommodate kids. However, in 2022, lawmakers summoned Smith to hearings sparked by WGN Investigates reporting and the director acknowledged nearly 200 kids had spent at least one night in space not licensed as a proper shelter, 20 kids spent more than 24 hours there and 1 child spent 3 weeks awaiting proper placement.
Smith repeatedly blamed his agency’s trouble on budget cuts and the closure of emergency shelter space by previous Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Smith and DCFS have also been held in contempt of court for leaving kids to languish in psychiatric hospitals – even jails – longer than medically necessary because appropriate placements couldn’t be found.
In 2021, WGN Investigates cited data from Cook County public guardian Charles Golbert’s office which determined 356 kids had been hospitalized longer than medically necessary in the previous year. The average stay was 55 days longer than deemed medically necessary, according to the data.
“They didn’t have anywhere else to place me so I had to stay there longer and longer and longer,” explained a young woman named Morgan who said she spent several months hospitalized, on several occasions, when she was a teenager in the care of DCFS.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Golbert said in part, “DCFS Director Marc Smith leaves a mixed legacy. On the one hand, in serving for four and a half years, Smith brought much needed consistency in leadership after DCFS rotated through 13 different directors and acting directors over the prior ten years. … On the other hand, over four and a half years and despite the increased resources, Smith failed to substantially expand desperately needed placement capacity. As a result, under Smith’s watch, we started to see children sleeping on the hard, cold floors of offices instead of in a warm, comfortable bed in an appropriate placement for the first time since the 1990s. This is now happening to hundreds of children every year. … The placement shortage crisis is so bad that Smith holds the dubious distinction of being the only director in DCFS’s history to be held in contempt of court a dozen times for failing to place children appropriately in violation of court orders. … During Smith’s tenure, hundreds of children have died despite DCFS involvement. At least a dozen of these deaths were high profile in the new media. This is likely, at least in part, because DCFS still has a 20% vacancy rate for investigators. DCFS has been in violation of the investigator caseload mandates of a federal consent decree for many years. … So Smith leaves a mixed legacy.”
Prior to DCFS, Smith served as an executive vice president at Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness, the state’s largest provider of services to families in crisis, according to his bio.