03-09-2018 Column

Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.

John F. Kennedy

 

Many of us know the story of Briar Rose, or as Walt Disney popularized it, Sleeping Beauty. For those who don’t, I will provide a brief synopsis. A King and Queen celebrate the birth of their only child. A curse is placed on the child by a malevolent being who was not invited to the celebration. The child is taken away from the danger to protect her. I won’t spoil the ending, but you get the drift.

 

Fairy tales are full of heroes and villains, good versus evil. We teach children from an early age that there is right and wrong, good people and bad people. Children learn when they are young that good people are often protectors.

 

Department of Children and Family Services investigators are protectors. The mission of DCFS begins with three words, “to protect children.” The job is often difficult, thankless, and dangerous. Some did not fully understand how dangerous until last fall.

DCFS investigator Pamela Knight was assaulted on September 29th, 2017 in Milledgeville, IL. Mrs. Knight was taking a 2 year old child into protective custody at the time of the assault. Tragically she passed away from her injuries on February 8th, 2018.

 

Twenty-five year old Andrew Sucher was charged with the assault. Since her death he has also been charged with 5 counts of murder in the 1st degree.

 

I filed House Bill 4147 on November 6th of last year. The bill makes battering a DCFS investigator who is doing their job a Class 1 felony, and includes enhanced penalties. Right now, police officers, fire fighters, and other peace officers are protected by such legislation. DCFS investigators should enjoy the same protection. Representatives Tony McCombie, Tom Demmer, John Cabello, and Stephanie Kifowit are Chief Co-Sponsors. Thirty-two of our colleagues are Co-Sponsors.

 

After Mrs. Knight’s death, State Senator Tim Bivins filed Senate Bill 2272, on February 14th, 2018. The purpose is the same as HB4147, to protect DCFS investigators while they do their jobs. State Senator Melinda Bush serves as the Chief Co-Sponsor.

 

It was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Mrs. Knight is not the only DCFS investigator who has been assaulted. On November 17th, 2017 the Chicago Tribune reported that at least 12 DCFS workers have been “attacked or seriously threatened” since 2013.

 

DCFS Director Beverly “BJ” Walker supports HB4147 and was quoted saying, “We welcome everybody’s involvement to figure out what more we could do to protect the workers when they’re out in these dangerous situations.” Senior Deputy Director Neil Skene said, “Our staff are first responders. The severe attack was a stark reminder of the dangers of going into these unpredictable and often hostile situations.”

 

AFSCME Council 31 is the union that represents DCFS workers. The Tribune reported that they discussed “new measures that might keep child protection workers safe,” with Director Walker. These measures include training improvements, and greater freedom to request police escorts. DCFS workers are not allowed to carry Mace or any other weapon to protect themselves while they do their jobs.

 

It is easy to understand why some DCFS workers may have been resistant to police escorts, especially prior to the assault on Mrs. Knight, which was particularly brutal. The presence of law enforcement can make families less cooperative. That is not hard to believe.

 

Additional training is good. Frequent law enforcement escorts are good. I believe that additional protections under the law are also good. HB4147 and SB2272 provide some of those additional protections.

 

I agree with President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.” We cannot be neutral. DCFS investigators are first responders whose mission it is to protect children. The work they do is difficult, and sensitive, and as we know, dangerous. They have been under assault. It is our duty to defend them.

 

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or John Guevara at 815-291-8989, or click on the Contact Us link at the top of this page and use the form to send me an e-mail.

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