When Fred Pennix (right) was hired 15 years ago as a state child welfare investigator in
Chicago's Englewood neighborhood -- arguably one of the nation's most devastated communities
-- he thought the job would be tough. Turns out, he was
Poverty there runs deep ...
When Fred Pennix (right) was hired 15 years ago as a state child welfare investigator in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood -- arguably one of the nation's most devastated communities -- he thought the job would be tough. Turns out, he was right.
Poverty there runs deep and drugs or violence are always lurking around the corner. For many children, Pennix says, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is their best hope for protection. And he's determined not to let that change.
Today he stood with hundreds of child welfare workers at the Thompson Center to pressure the governor to sign a languishing appropriations bill that would spare 179 child welfare jobs and some other social programs, which will otherwise be eliminated in just 18 days.
Earlier this fall, the General Assembly approved tapping other state funds to inject $220 million into the state's operating budget. But, Gov. Blagojevich -- who made the cuts to help shore up $1.4 billion shortfall -- has yet to sign off on releasing the money.
If the governor fails to act by Oct. 31, scores of caseworkers, investigators, and other front-line workers will be sent packing. Many are frustrated by the governor's unwillingness to explain why he's not signing the bill. But most of all, the employees we spoke with wonder how the agency will manage.
"There used to be a concern that if you had 10 pending investigations, kids were at risk. The it went up to 15. Now it's 20," Pennix said. "There's no spreading the work around. There's no one to spread it to."
Employees who have seniority under a contract negotiated by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union -- such as caseworker JoAnn Washington-Murry -- will have the chance to transfer into vacant jobs should theirs be cut.
One way or another, a net loss of 179 jobs will be realized, according to DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe. Just how the transition will shake out remains an unknown, he said.
"DCFS says they have a plan. We don't know what it is," Washington-Murry says. "Ultimately the service cuts are going to hurt our families."