Gov. Pritzker Announces Support for Legislation to Protect Social Workers
CHICAGO — Governor JB Pritzker today announced his support for SB 3070 in the General Assembly that will increase penalties for individuals who commit crimes against Illinois Department of Childhood and Family Services (DCFS) employees. The legislation, known as the Knight-Silas Bill, comes in response to the tragic deaths of two DCFS caseworkers, Deidre Silas and Pam Knight, who were killed while on the job.
"Our DCFS workers dedicate their careers to our most vulnerable children, living in pursuit of the belief that every child should have a safe place to call home," said Governor JB Pritzker. "These professionals do everything in their power to protect children, so it's time for the legal system to treat them like the first responders they are. I'm working with the General Assembly to enhance the penalties for adults who harm DCFS workers to align with the protections for other first responders - in honor of Deidre Silas, in honor of Pam Knight, in honor of all our DCFS employees, and in honor of all who live in service to others."
Under the proposed legislation, DCFS employees would be granted the same protections as police, firemen, private security employees, correctional officers, and community policing volunteers. The legislation allows for a person who causes great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to a DCFS employee to be charged with a more serious Class 1 felony as opposed to a Class 3. Just like other first responders, it is not the extent of the harm or injury that allows the aggravated battery charge to be brought, but rather the status of the victim as a DCFS employee.
"The hard work and commitment of the employees of the Department of Children and Family Services help keep children safe, provide brighter futures for many families and strengthen communities across our state," said DCFS Director Marc Smith. "They deserve the same support and protection as other frontline workers in Illinois. Our workers are sometimes called upon to enter challenging situations, and we believe this legislation will help ensure their safety and deter acts of violence against those who have dedicated their lives to helping others."
Currently, individuals who commit physical crimes against a DCFS employee are only charged with aggravated battery if they cause great bodily harm, permanent disability, or disfigurement, or if the battery occurred publicly. Aggravated battery in those circumstances is a Class 3 felony.
"The senseless death of Deidre Silas, a DCFS investigator who dedicated her career to helping at-risk youth, is devastating," said State Senator Doris Turner (D-Springfield). "My heart goes out to all who love her during this difficult time. This line of work is challenging and can clearly be dangerous. The legislation we're proposing today sends a clear message - acts of violence against social workers will not be tolerated in our state. We all deserve to work in peace, freedom and under safe circumstances, and I am committed to protecting those who work in this field."
"As we mourn the senseless death of Deidre Silas, a DCFS caseworker and a hero, it is our responsibility as legislators to look at ways to make certain that this does not happen again to another DCFS worker who is putting their life on the line every day to protect children around our state," said Leader LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis). "I look forward to sponsoring legislation that would ensure the protection of DCFS employees the same way that police, firemen, private security employees, correctional officers, and community policing volunteers are protected under the law."
"Each day, social workers, caseworkers and DCFS employees put their lives on the line to protect our state's most vulnerable youth. These children need a guardian angel in their lives to make sure they're being kept out of danger - and that guardian angel is often a compassionate DCFS employee," said State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest), Chair of the bipartisan DCFS Working Group. "Yet, without greater protections and a more complete workforce, DCFS employees will continue to be put in helpless deadly situations. Tragedies against employees whose main goal is to help our at-risk youth must come to an end - and I am hopeful this legislation is the start."
"My heart goes out to the family of Deidre Silas, a courageous and dedicated front line worker who lost her life, making sure children were safe," said State Senator Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago). "I will continue to fight to ensure that our kids in child welfare system and the workers responsible for their welfare are kept out of harm's way."
"We have to make it clear that we will not tolerate any kind of violence against the people who are working to protect kids and families," said State Senator Steve McClure (R-Springfield). "I am proud to be a chief co-sponsor of this legislation, as I was honored to be a chief co-sponsor of similar legislation in the past, including HB 1482 in the 101st General Assembly. I am hopeful that we can finally advance this idea, particularly to honor the memory of Deidre Silas and her public service to our state's most vulnerable children and families."
"We are proud to co-sponsor legislation that values our Department of Children and Family Services staff. As a caucus, we have been fighting for this legislation since the murder of DCFS social worker Pam Knight in 2018. This bill is the first step to provide justice for those that serve to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. We grieve for the friends and family of Pam Knight and Deidre Silas and pray that we will work together for meaningful change within the department to better protect our front line," said State Representatives Tony McCombie (R- Sterling) and Dan Caulkins (R- Decatur).
The proposed legislation would apply to all individuals over the age of 21. For more information on DCFS, go to https://www2.illinois.gov/dcfs/Pages/default.aspx.