CHICAGO — Newly obtained pictures show a problem the Cook County public guardian fears is happening too often: Kids sleeping on the floor of a state office building.
The kids were in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services at the time.
Experts said the images underscore systemic problems in the agency charged with protecting Illinois’ most vulnerable children.
Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert was first to blow the whistle on the sorry sleeping conditions for some at-risk kids. He said he is even more concerned now that he’s seen these pictures obtained by WGN Investigates.
The pictures were taken last year at DCFS’ office in Chicago’s South Loop and show two kids sleeping on a blanket on the floor, surrounded by a few stuffed animals.
Another photo shows two girls sleeping on top of each other on a single mattress on the floor of the state office.
“These are already traumatized kids and now you’re saying, ‘Go sleep on the floor,’” Golbert said.
Last month, Golbert sent a letter to a federal judge overseeing a consent decree for DCFS. In it, he referred to two teenagers whom he learned had recently spent the night on the floor of the same office.
“Our worst fears have been realized” Golbert wrote after one of the teens ran away the next morning.
Daphne Threlkeld spent 21 years as a DCFS investigator. She said it’s not uncommon for kids to fall asleep while overworked staff struggles to find a place for them to go.
“They’re babysitting. They’re doing case notes. They’re filling out legal documents and court paper work,” she said.
She said it can take “many hours.”
“But the real time taken is locating a placement for that child especially if that child is an adolescent with a troubled past,” she said.
DCFS’ own count shows a dwindling number of emergency shelter space available.
Five years ago there were 159 beds. Now, the number is down to just 43 statewide.
“The kids I’m aware of sleeping in offices it’s because the shelter was full, no beds available,” Golbert said.
A DCFS spokesperson insists the state office building isn’t being used as a makeshift shelter.
The agency released a statement that reads:
Many DCFS offices across the state must be prepared to protect infants, children and youth who will often arrive exhausted and in need of clothing, food, diapers, formula and other necessities. This is not a substitute for shelter. DCFS is working in partnership with providers to secure additional shelter options for those in need.
Experts said with shelter space frequently at capacity, this is how some of the state’s neediest kids are forced to sleep.
“We did not learn about this through ordinary reporting channels,” Golbert said. “We learned about this fortuitously which makes me worried it’s far more widespread than we realize now.”
Governor Pritzker has said it’s “unacceptable” for kids to sleep on the floors of a state office building.
He has increased DCFS’ budget by nearly $90 million while blaming his predecessor for “starving” the agency.