A 50 percent budget reduction two legislative sessions ago has shaved by more than half the number of cases the Foster Care Citizen Review Board is able to examine.
The $300,000 slash also reduced staff by half, straining the board's ability to catch many minor problems early in the cases of children in state custody.
"The effect has been obvious," the board's executive director, Patricia Worthington, told members of the Legislature's interim Judiciary Committee this past week. "We reviewed the cases of 2,300 children two years ago."
This past fiscal year, the board conducted reviews involving 1,035 children, she said.
"That is the thing that is distressing to us . . . we are doing as well as could be expected."
Still, the organization — made up of 26 boards throughout the state with 260 volunteers — found mostly positive results in its reviews of particular cases handled by the Division of Child and Family Services.
The board found:
94 percent of children were safe in their placement.
98 percent had received appropriate medical and dental care.
93 percent were in appropriate placement.
86 percent were receiving mental health services.
One area Worthington said is of lingering concern is the 60 percent figure for "positive prospects for permanency" — that is, moving children into permanent homes and out of foster care.
That figure remained unchanged from the board's review conducted a year earlier.
When questioned about the reason for the low number, Worthington said a number of factors can prevent children from leaving foster care and either returning to their families or being adopted.
Often, those factors are just "little" things that can easily be corrected.
"Prospects for permanency have so much to do with everything else," she said. "There can be just one thing that can have an effect. It is an area that is very concerning."
Often, the board, after talking with everyone involved with the case, can facilitate a solution, even if it is something as simple as acting as a conduit for communication among the parties, she said.
"How many of those kids we don't get to see is there a solution that could happen so the problem doesn't get out of hand? It is often the little things that magnify into bigger things."
Two sessions ago, lawmakers threatened to cut the entire budget of the citizen review board, asserting it duplicated reviews already conducted by DCFS and the courts.
But Worthington said an independent review provides a check and balance.
"Without feedback, no system can become self-correcting."