Child at center of 11th contempt of court finding no longer in psychiatric facility, DCFS says

Cook County Public Guardian says each holding costs taxpayers money
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Published: May. 20, 2022 at 11:41 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith was found in contempt of court for the 11th time for violating an order to place children in more appropriate care settings.

Contempt of court findings for state agency directors are extremely rare, especially 11 times over.

Each involves a child in DCFS care who was left in a medical or psychiatric facility for weeks after their treatment was completed. Sometimes emergency rooms, sometimes locked psychiatric wards, the children are typically unable to go outside and are confined to the hospital room they are left in.

In the latest case, an 11-year-old girl who has been involved with DCFS for six years has moved between psychiatric hospitals, residential placements, hospital emergency rooms and shelters. The contempt order also suggests she was put in abusive and emergency foster homes.

In April she was taken to an emergency room after making suicide attempts and making suicidal statements. She remained in the emergency room for four days, where she reportedly continued to make suicidal statements, was physically aggressive and attempted to escape the hospital. she required five emergency medications to calm her down.

The court ordered the department to place the girl on April 14, yesterday the found the director in contempt and said the department would face fines starting June 2 if the child was not placed.

“This youth is no longer in a psychiatric hospital and DCFS has, in fact, placed this youth in a clinically appropriate setting where she is receiving supportive services and is attending school every day,” DCFS Communications Director Bill McCaffrey said of the 11th child.

They also said four of the 11 holdings have been purged. The department argued these contempt findings are not legally appropriate and are appealing to a higher court to have them overturned, according to a statement.

The Cook County Juvenile Court has a special docket for these cases, which conducts hearings every Thursday.

Beyond the issue of children remaining in inappropriate settings, the Cook County public guardian also argues the inappropriate placements cost the state more money than if the children were given proper care.

“All of this is a colossal waste of taxpayer money because psychiatric hospitals and emergency shelters are much more expensive than other placements,” Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said.

Psychiatric hospitalization is not eligible for federal reimbursement. Golbert asserts these placements cost taxpayers $6.2 million each year.

Temporary shelters are also more expensive than residential or foster placements. In one contempt holding, a child was placed in a temporary shelter that costs taxpayers $9,700 per month. The specialized foster care the child needs would only cost $1,400-$1,700 a month, according to the CCPG.

“All of this is money that could and should be used to expand placement capacity,” instead of paying for temporary placements, Golbert argued.

The 11th contempt, along with other issues for the agency, has prompted continual outcry for reform from lawmakers. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin is calling for the Smith’s removal.

“How many kids have to be hurt and neglected by this vital agency before Pritzker will roll up his sleeves and actually do something about it,” Durkin said in a statement. “Today, I call on the Governor to remove Director Smith for the good of the children in Illinois who need a functioning DCFS to keep them safe.”

Other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they’re looking into intensive reform for the agency.

Previous contempt holdings

The 10 previous contempt holdings include children ranging from 8 to 17 years old who have remained in facilities for weeks or months at a time.

The first two cases, from January 2022, involved an 8-year-old girl left in a psychiatric facility for seven months, including over her birthday. The second case involved a 13-year-old boy placed in a temporary shelter hours away from his home for five months.

The third involved a 17-year-old boy housed in a psychiatric facility for four months. The fourth case was a 16-year-old girl moved 25 times between emergency rooms, hospitals and temporary shelters in the course of two months. The fifth, a 13-year-old girl in a psychiatric facility had completed her treatment on April 21, 2021. She was not placed for more than 300 days.

In the sixth case, a 15-year-old girl was kept in a psychiatric facility for three months. Additionally, the court asserts she was not placed in the appropriate specialized foster care setting DCFS determined she needed. The seventh case was a 16-year-old boy who spent 375 days in a temporary shelter the court argues was not appropriate to meet his special needs due to low cognitive functioning.

The eighth case involved a girl moved 21 times between DCFS offices, hospital emergency rooms, foster homes and being kept in a psychiatrics hospital for two months after she was ready for discharge. The ninth contempt order was a 15-year-old boy not placed appropriately for two months; the court also argued the department did not give him the appropriate psychological and neurological exam to assess his needs.

The 10th case involves a 13-year-old girl who remains in a psychiatric hospital. She has been ready for discharge since March 21, 2022.

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