Date:March 1, 4, 23; April 22; June 8, 10, 30; July 8, 11; Aug. 9; Sept 4, 23; Oct. 29; Nov. 29
After years of reform to Illinois' child welfare system, the violent deaths of two young boys whose families had been previously investigated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services led the Tribune to question whether the state had done enough to protect them. Reporters Christy Gutowski and Bill Ruthhart found the state was violating critical terms of a federal consent decree that set limits on caseloads for child abuse investigators and deadlines for case closures. Through limited public records, sources and confidential reports, the reporters detailed more than a dozen child abuse deaths that occurred after state welfare officials had been notified. They also investigated the state's woeful child abuse hotline, probed the state's failure to properly inspect child day care facilities and analyzed how the agency's layoffs fell disproportionately on its most critical positions - investigators. Gutowski and Ruthhart also illustrated how proposed state budget cuts could force more children into foster care and revisited the legacy of two troubling child deaths in the 1990s that led to the federal consent decree. It was in their memories that this project was born.