DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) – After the death of a 2-year-old girl in Decatur, Rep. Sue Scherer gave her thoughts about how a hearing on the case went.
Scherer had a list of questions for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) about how leaders handled the death of Ta’Naja Barnes. Authorities found the child unresponsive, dirty and too cold to measure on the morning of Feb. 11 at a Decatur house.
In a timeline of events DCFS released in recent weeks, the department revealed Barnes had once been removed from the home where she died after DCFS received a hotline call making claims of abuse. She was then removed from multiple foster homes and the home of her biological father before eventually going back to her mother, Twanka Davis, and Anthony Myers, who is Davis’ live-in boyfriend. Davis and Myers both face murder and endangering the life and health of a child charges.
In the hearing, DCFS said three Webster-Cantrell Hall case workers were making surprise visits to Davis’ house, which is located in the 1800 block of E. North St., after Barnes was returned there in August 2018. Questioning from Scherer revealed WCH workers asked for the case to be closed with the child back in the home for less than two weeks. DCFS Interim Director Debra Dyer-Weaver said visits are supposed to continue for six months, meaning WCH workers would have continued to make visits in February of 2019.
Readers can find more details about the hearing here.
Scherer told WAND-TV that questioning of Dyer-Weaver and DCFS Inspector General Meryl Paniak marked “uncharted waters” for the House’s top child welfare committee. She added that it went as well as she could have hoped and said she was pleased DCFS officials did not try to avoid questions.
Law changes could be on the way in the aftermath of Barnes’ death. Scherer said she plans to meet with State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz to discuss changes that could be needed.
One possible change might be more money for DCFS, which was proposed in Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget. Scherer said funding isn’t the only thing that needs to happen, but did say she believes the money for DCFS should be mandatory.
Pritzker sent a letter to the committee on Monday. WAND-TV obtained that letter Wednesday. In it, Pritzker called results from Paniak's report "deeply troubling" and said he is looking forward to working with Feigenholtz and other lawmakers to improve DCFS.
The governor said DCFS is working to make changes that include reducing caseloads, implementing new technology, working with the Department of Human Services to provide critical services, and returning higher-risk cases worked on by private agencies back to DCFS.
Read his full letter in a PDF document attached to this story.