11th contempt citation filed against DCFS director
Capitol News Illinois file photo
Suicidal 11-year-old girl was in emergency room for four days
By BETH HUNDSDORFER
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – On Thursday afternoon, a Cook County judge found Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith in contempt of court for the 11th time for violating court orders to move children to proper placements.
The 11-year-old girl at the center of the case has been in the care of DCFS since she was five. In those six years, according to the Cook County Public Guardian who represents the girl in court, she has been placed in an abusive foster home, emergency foster homes, psychiatric hospitals, residential placements, shelters and emergency rooms.
On April 12, the girl was at school and said she wanted to kill herself, according to a news release from the Cook County Public Guardian’s office. When she got home, she made a noose and tried to slip it around her neck. She was taken to a hospital.
After she had been in a hospital emergency room for two days, a judge ordered DCFS to take her out of the hospital and put her in a psychiatric hospital or a secure residential facility.
Despite that court order, the girl stayed in the emergency room for two more days before she was moved to a temporary shelter where she remained on Friday.
During her four days in the emergency room, the girl repeatedly made suicidal statements, tried to run away and became physically aggressive, the release stated. Medical staff administered five medications to calm her.
This child joins 10 others whose cases are the basis for contempt citations.
The judge in each case ordered DCFS to move the children to appropriate settings where they could receive treatment and services, but they remained in inappropriate settings despite those court orders and the agency’s own recommendations.
Four of those contempt citations have been purged, meaning those children have been moved into the recommended placements.
“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 spokesperson William McCaffrey said in a statement. “DCFS is in constant contact with its network of providers and foster parents in an ongoing effort to place children in clinically appropriate settings.”
Last week, a child that Capitol News Illinois identified as “Leah” to protect her identity was a subject of a case that led to the 10th contempt citation against Smith. Leah remains in a locked psychiatric hospital.
While the 40 or so children on the “beyond medical necessity” docket make up a small number of the 20,000 children in DCFS care, the contempt citations have brought much attention to the plight of these children.
The details of these cases demonstrate that children who have a diagnosis of psychiatric and medical conditions, developmental delays or some combination thereof complicate the placement. Smith has said that the elimination of specialized care during the previous administration has left the agency scrambling to rebuild services.
During COVID-19, the need for psychiatric services for children grew. The state lagged in providing supportive services for children ready to be discharged from a hospital to residential care or family-like settings. Children lingered in these restrictive settings rather than step down to less restrictive settings with the help of supports and services.
Nearly a third of these children did not enter the psychiatric facilities while under state care. They were admitted into the psychiatric facilities by their parents or guardians who then did not have necessary services to bring them home after discharge.
“Because it is doing everything possible to place these children, DCFS has taken and continues to take the legal position that these contempt orders are not appropriate and has appealed to a higher court to overturn these orders as expediently as possible,” McCaffrey said.
In the 11 contempt cases, Murphy fined Smith $1,000 per day for every day the children remain in the improper placements. In all the cases that have not been purged, the fine has been stayed by an appellate court.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.