Another child in DCFS care sleeps in state office, despite claims it’s ‘unacceptable’

WGN Investigates
Data pix.

In July, we first showed you heartbreaking images of young kids sleeping in a state office while they were under the care of the Department of Children and Family Services. A source now tells WGN it’s happened again.

This past weekend, a 10-year-old child under DCFS's care was forced to spend two nights at a state office not intended or equipped to be used as a shelter.

In July, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said such conditions "unacceptable." Nevertheless, WGN Investigates has learned it continues to happen.

According to a source, a 10-year-old girl was taken into DCFS custody early Thursday evening and brought to a DCFS office South Loop. The agency didn’t find a placement for her until Saturday night, so she spent nearly 48 hours in an office building the agency’s own inspector general said is not set up to serve as an overnight shelter.

“This child did stay at an office here in Chicago while we were trying to pull together resources for a safe environment,” said DCFS Acting Director Mark Smith, saying he would not "go into particulars" in this case.

WGN Investigates has also learned that two weeks ago, DCFS signed on to a stipulation with a federal judge asking for permission to occasionally allow kids to sleep in offices.

It says kids will, “not be kept overnight in a DCFS agency office unless there is a judgement that the action is in the youth’s best interest.” But “no such stay will extend beyond one night.” Less than two weeks later it happened again.

“These are certainly challenges we’re facing and we're working aggressively to make sure they don’t continue to happen again,” Smith said.

Saturday morning, a source concerned the girl was still in the state office contacted WGN Investigates. We immediately reached out to Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, who alerted DCFS administrators.

“The ink wasn’t even dry on this stipulation and we have kids sleeping on the floor for multiple nights at a time,” Golbert said.

By 8:30 p.m. Saturday, the 10 year-old was finally placed in a proper home. But how is this still happening?

“I would think to say, most of the situations this is happening is less and less every day, and we’re working hard to make sure that our system responds to every situation perfectly and the way it’s supposed to be done,” Smith said.

But had Golbert not received a call from WGN alerting him to the child staying at the state offices, he says she would have likely still been in the building today.

“I have absolutely no doubt this 10-year-old girl would still be there right now as we speak and probably into the week. I have no doubt,” Golbert said.

The acting director of DCFS said it's “rare” for a child to have to sleep at its offices, but declined to offer a specific number. An open records request this summer revealed that in a two-month period, 16 kids spent the night at a DCFS office.

The governor has promised more money for emergency shelter space and placements.


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