SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The director of the embattled Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said Wednesday that he will leave his post at the end of the year.
The upcoming departure of Marc D. Smith from the agency also known as DCFS was one of three announced Wednesday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Pritzker had named Smith as DCFS director in April 2019. Smith steered the agency during a tumultuous period in which a judge held him in contempt of court several times for failing to adequately house children who had been placed in the department’s custody.
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.”
The Democratic governor also said Wednesday that 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.
Pritzker 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. Pritzker’s statement said the three departing administrators “reflect the best of state government — people who have sacrificed to help millions of constituents.”
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 repeatedly found Smith in contempt of court in 2021 and 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.
Noting that Smith is the 13th DCFS director in a decade, Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said he provided desperately needed continuity. He applauded frontline workers as well as administrators for their effective COVID-19 response and praised Smith for securing a larger agency budget.
But Golbert said the money didn’t buy better services, with too few beds for incoming kids. Dozens more languish in juvenile detention after they have been ordered released, or are locked in psychiatric hospitals after they have been discharged because DCFS doesn’t have a place for them to stay.
“I see this as an opportunity to build on the resources that Smith got and the continuity that he provided to hopefully actually translate this into improved outcomes for kids,” Golbert said.
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.
Savage, who reported from Chicago, is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.