By Dave Savini and Michele Youngerman
CHICAGO (CBS) — For years CBS 2 has been telling you about young children – our most vulnerable in the child welfare system – being left in psychiatric hospitals long after they are ready for discharge.
Other children housed in shelters instead of proper placements.
Now we are seeing accountability. In a stunning move, a Cook County Juvenile Court judge issued two contempt of court orders against Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Director Marc Smith for violating the rights of two children left languishing in facilities for months. DCFS could soon be fined as much as $2,000 a day until those children are properly placed.
We interviewed Marc Smith last March, during which he said, “We are responsible for the care and well being of children who are being abused and neglected in the state of Illinois.”
“And for me, there is nothing more important than making sure that our system is accountable for the work that we do,” Smith continued.
The CBS 2 Investigators have learned Smith is now the one accused of a lack of accountability – slapped with two-contempt-of court orders by a judge who ruled smith violated the rights of two children who were left languishing in facilities for months.
Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said he’s never seen this happen.
“A judge in juvenile court in two cases – two unrelated cases – held the DCFS director Marc Smith in contempt of court for violating multiple court orders to place two children,” said Golbert.
The court order describes how a 9-year-old girl suffered years of physical and sexual abuse at home. Then after entering DCFS care, she was put into a psychiatric hospital. She was medically ready to be discharged back in June 2021, but she’s still hospitalized.
A judge said DCFS disobeyed numerous court orders to get the child out of the hospital in October and November. This is why DCFS Director Smith is being held in contempt.
The girl has been confined in the psychiatric hospital for 221 days since the date she was supposed to be discharged.
“I’ve seen judges threaten to hold DCFS in contempt of court many times,” said Golbert. “I’ve been working in juvenile court for more than 30 years. I cannot recall a single case where a judge actually held the DCFS director in contempt of court.”
The other contempt order was issued after a 13-year-old boy in DCFS care was forced to sleep in a storage room.
“He was sleeping on the floor of a utility room in an office,” said Golbert. “Closet of an office.”
That child was then sent to a downstate shelter and has been stuck there for 145 days – the reason for Smith’s other contempt charge.
“The truth is is that our heart breaks every day in this system,” said Marc Smith last March.
We interviewed then after the CBS 2 Investigators exposed how another child, a 10-year-old girl, had been trafficked out of the Grand Motel in Chicago.
DCFS had received repeated complaints regarding her dating back several years. At least five men had sexually assaulted her since the age of seven and she suffered other abuse. DCFS failed to put her in protective custody until her final rape case at the Grand Motel in October of 2020.
Smith wouldn’t talk about how his department handled her case. We found once DCFS did finally step in, they kept the girl locked in a psychiatric hospital 39 days longer than necessary. And it took 154 days for DCFS to get her into an appropriate placement.
“I can’t speak to any individual case,” said Smith.
It wasn’t until after our stories that the girl was transferred.
Golbert said it took media action to get the girl properly placed.
The two new contempt cases also call for sanctions – fines of $1,000 a day, per child, for every day the 9-year-old and 13-year-old are not properly placed.
Golbert says taxpayers pay at least $6 million a year to cover these inappropriate placements for children. In the thirteen year old’s case, getting him placed where he’s supposed to be would cost about $,1700 a month. The shelter he’s been confined in costs more than five times that at $9,700 a month.
“We always want to do what’s best for the kids that we’re serving,” Smith previously said. “In recent years has been an elimination of a high number of beds, but we’ve also in the last couple of years, really worked at not only increasing those numbers and rebuilding the supply of beds that we need.”
About 500 residential and group home beds were eliminated. With all those places to live now gone, children end up languishing in psychiatric hospitals and shelters. It’s a problem Smith inherited when he was chosen to lead the department in 2019
Golbert says getting rid of all those placements put the system in a mess, “This system has been in shambles for the last seven years since then”.
DCFS plans to appeal the court orders.
“The Department of Children and Family Services is dedicated to keeping children safe and strengthening families. We are working aggressively addressing the decades-long challenge of a lack of community resources and facilities for children with complex behavioral health needs, which has been exacerbated by an increased demand in social services in recent years. Every single day, DCFS works with its network of providers and foster parents in an ongoing effort to place these children in settings that can provide the appropriate level of care and in which the children can grow and flourish.”
Source: CBS Chicago