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Increased protection efforts renewed following fatal stabbing of Illinois DCFS worker

Investigators say Deidre Silas was stabbed to death during a home check in Thayer, Illinois, four years after DCFS worker Pam Knight was killed in Milledgeville.

THAYER, Ill. — An Illinois Department of Child and Family Services worker was killed during a home visit on Tuesday, Jan. 4.

Investigators say Deidre Silas was stabbed to death while checking on six children at a home in Thayer, Illinois. The village is located south of Springfield.

Authorities arrested 32-year-old Benjamin Reed who is charged with first degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

“Today, the State of Illinois mourns the loss of Deidre Silas, a DCFS caseworker and a hero, taken from us in the line of duty. There is no higher calling than the work to keep children and families safe and Deidre lived that value every single day,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “Our most vulnerable are safer because she chose to serve. I can think of no more profound legacy. MK and I send our deepest condolences to her colleagues at DCFS, her family, and all who loved her.”

The American Federation of State says they are reviewing the incident and will determine if the stabbing requires more to be done to protect child welfare workers.

It's a case that brings up a lot of emotions for many, including State Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) who says she's been pushing for better protections for DCFS workers over the past three years.

"In Illinois, we continue to pass policy that doesn't offer them protections. And it just makes it even harder," she said. "So yeah, I'm very saddened. I'm mad. And I'm very concerned about what this is going to do to the rest of the DCFS family as well as the families of the victims."

Silas' death comes four years after Whiteside County DCFS worker Pam Knight was beaten to death while performing a welfare check in Milledgeville on Sept. 29, 2017. Knight's attacker, Andrew Sucher, signed a plea deal for 21 years in jail with no parole.

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"(Sucher) ambushed her when she got out of the car. She didn't get five feet from the door of her car, and he nailed her," said Pam's husband, Don Knight. "Hit her in the head with one blow with his hand, knocked her down. And he took a steel toed shoe and kicked her in the head three times and destroyed the left side of her brain. Took her life right there."

She spent five months in the hospital before dying Feb. 8, 2018.

"After five months, we had to determine that there was no good outcome to the whole situation because the left side of her brain was completely gone," Knight said. "That five months was a very sad five months. But that night at the hospital, the very first night, I made it clear to DCFS, the directors, the union, was that I would make a difference if it took the rest of my life."

If approved, McCombie's proposal would put DCFS workers on the same level as police officers and teachers which automatically increases the sentence against violent offenders.

"Police, fire, teachers, anybody that works into a school like a cafeteria person, a janitor and aid, they all have the same if they have an aggravated battery charge against them," McCombie said. "The charge is the same. Now, if you're a DCFS caseworker, no, if you're a Department of Aging caseworker, no, it it was just an error that now they're not willing to, to fix."

Currently, the punishment for assaulting a DCFS worker on the job is two to five years. The proposed bill would increase it to up to 10 years. 

The bill was passed in the Illinois House of Representatives in 2021, but was later shut down in the Senate. McCombie said she plans to keep pushing the bill again during this session.

"I don't think we're going to have any problems in the House passing it because we get it," she said. "Now, the Senate is going to have to get their act together and get this bill passed."

RELATED: Husband of beaten DCFS worker asks lawmakers to explain themselves

Knight wants to see more protections in place for DCFS workers beyond this bill. 

"We don't need to put guns or tasers on DCFS workers. That's not the answer," he said. "But we got to do something to help them. A pencil and a piece of paper is not enough."

Too often, Knight said, DCFS workers walk into situations blind.

"My wife was moved from office to office. And when she walked in the door, they would throw a case at her and say, 'You got to get out there to that house. We're two weeks late on it. And we got to get something done with it,'" Knight said. "And she has no idea, didn't have a chance to review it, didn't know who the players were or anything."

Knight wants there to be a standardized designation across all DCFS offices. He thinks case workers should have three weeks to review a case with a police officer present at all home visits for that time period. That way, he said, DCFS workers can learn more about the family and who might be there. 

Afterwards, cases should be given a category of one through five. Anything marked three, four or five means a police officer should be with a DCFS worker every visit, he said.

"When that person walks in the office, picks up the file, sees a three, 'That's a police officer. I can't do anything until I call the police department and get a police officer,'" Knight said. "That's going to be the safety of the workers. The workers and the police officers are going to work together. If they can't get one right away, they're just going to have to wait. Why put the person in harm when they don't need to?"

He added that had greater protections for DCFS workers been in place, Silas' death could have been prevented. 

"We need to show the people that if they do the crime, they're going to do the time," Knight said. "And if they would have been in place last night, that worker (Silas), would still be here today." 

State Rep. Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island) and State Sen. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) released statements Wednesday, Jan. 5 in which they also committed to passing legislation for the protection of DCFS workers.

A GoFundMe has been created for Deidre's 2-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. So far, community members have rallied to raise $12,145 of the $100,000 goal for the family.

Anyone interested in donating can do so at Deidre's GoFundMe page.