by Dave Savini and Michelle 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 getting ready for discharge.
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Other children were placed in shelters instead of proper placements.
Now we are looking at accountability. In a surprise move, a Cook County Juvenile Court judge issued two contempt orders against Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) director Mark Smith for violating the rights of two children, Which had been lying in the facilities for months. DCFS could soon be fined up to $2,000 a day unless those children are properly placed.
We interviewed Mark Smith last March, during which he said, “We are responsible for the care and well-being of abused and neglected children in the state of Illinois.”
“And to me, nothing is more important than making sure that our systems are accountable for the work that we do,” Smith continued.
CBS 2 investigators have learned that Smith is now accused of a lack of accountability — slapped with two contempt of court orders by a judge that violated Smith’s rights to two children, who had been in the facilities for months. were left in
Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said he had never seen anything like this happen.
“A judge in juvenile court in two cases — two unrelated cases — held DCFS Director Mark Smith in contempt of court for violating multiple court orders to keep two children,” Golbert said.
The court’s order describes how a 9-year-old girl faced physical and sexual abuse at home for years. Then after entering DCFS care, she was placed in a psychiatric hospital. She was set to be medically discharged in June 2021, but she is still hospitalised.
A judge said the DCFS defied several court orders to take the child out of the hospital in October and November. This is the reason why DCFS Director Smith is being made a contempt case.
The girl has been lodged in a psychiatric hospital for 221 days from the date she was to be discharged.
“I have seen judges many times threaten to hold DCFS in contempt of court,” Golbert said. “I have been working in Juvenile Court for more than 30 years. I do not remember a single case where a judge has actually held the DCFS Director guilty of contempt of court.
The second contempt order was issued after a 13-year-old boy was forced to sleep in a storage room at DCFS Care.
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“He was sleeping on the floor of a utility room in an office,” Golbert said. “An office closet.”
The child was then sent to a downstate shelter and has been trapped there for 145 days – the reason for Smith’s other contempt charge.
“The truth is, our hearts are broken every day in this system,” Mark Smith said last March.
After being uncovered by CBS 2 investigators we interviewed how another child, a 10-year-old girl, The illegal trade was carried out from the Grand Motel in Chicago.
DCFS had received repeated complaints about her dating several years old. at least five men She had been sexually assaulted since the age of seven and faced other abuses. DCFS failed to keep her in protective custody until her last rape case at the Grand Motel in October 2020.
Smith would not talk about how his department handled his case. We found that once the DCFS finally stepped in, they kept the girl in a psychiatric hospital for 39 days longer than necessary. And it took 154 days for DCFS to bring it to the proper place.
Smith said, ‘I can’t talk about any one case.
The girl was not transferred until after our stories.
Golbert said he took media action to keep the girl well.
Two new counts of contempt also sought to impose sanctions – a fine of $1,000 per day for every day a 9-year-old and 13-year-olds were not properly held.
Golbert says taxpayers pay at least $6 million annually to cover these inappropriate placements for children. In the case of a thirteen-year-old, it would cost about $1,700 per month to keep him where he should have been. The cost of the shelter they are placed in is more than five times as much as $9,700 a month.
Smith has previously said, “We always want to do what’s best for the kids we’re serving.” “A significant number of beds have been eliminated in recent years, but we’ve also really worked over the years to not only increase the numbers and rebuild the supply of beds that we need.”
About 500 residential and collective household beds were removed. Now all those places to live are gone, children are dying in psychiatric hospitals and shelters. It’s a problem that Smith inherited when he was selected to lead the department in 2019
Getting rid of all those placements messed up the system, says Golbert, adding that “the system has since gotten worse for the past seven years”.
DCFS plans to appeal against the court’s orders.
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“The Department of Children and Family Services is dedicated to keeping children safe and strengthening families. We are working aggressively to address the decades-old challenge of lack of community resources and facilities for children with complex behavioral health needs, exacerbated in recent years by the increased demand for social services. Every single day, DCFS works with its network of providers and foster parents to place these children in a setting that can provide an appropriate level of care and in which children can grow and thrive.