Hundreds of DCFS kids hospitalized longer than necessary

WGN Investigates

The Illinois Department of Children & Family Services has so few appropriate placements for kids that hundreds have been stranded in treatment programs and hospitals longer than is medically necessary. 

“They didn’t have anywhere else to place me so I had to stay there longer and longer and longer,” explained a young woman named Morgan who said she spent several months hospitalized, on several occasions, when she was a teenager in the care of DCFS.  Morgan, who is now 19, said she was treated for bipolar disorder and anger issues.  We aren’t using her last name in the interest of privacy.  Her situation is not unique.

The Cook County Public Guardian’s office analyzed state statistics that show in the last year 356 kids statewide were hospitalized beyond the time it was medically necessary.    The average stay: 55 days longer than a doctor deemed appropriate.  And 18% of the kids were 10 years old or younger. “As they keep getting put-off and put-off you’ll see a return to the negative behavior and often times they go right back to into requiring hospitalization precisely because of the disappointment,” said Heidi Dalenberg of the ACLU of Illinois.

Beginning in 2015, under former Gov. Bruce Rauner, DCFS closed 460 residential beds in Illinois with the intent of replacing them with therapeutic foster homes.  However, Cook County juvenile court judge Patrick Murphy found DCFS opened less than 30 statewide, including just 10 in Cook County.  In a court order, Judge Murphy quoted DCFS officials saying ‘in hindsight, this was a mistake.’

DCFS Director Marc Smith admits the problem hasn’t been fixed.  “We’re committed to keep growing residential and therapeutic and foster care facilities and keep driving that forward,” Smith told WGN Investigates.  His comments came after he was hauled before a state legislating committee investigating a previous WGN Investigates report that found kids were sleeping in DCFS offices – as well as unlicensed shelter space in private agencies – due to a shortage of emergency placement space 

Promises to fix problems that have plagued DCFS for years sound hollow to kids who have found themselves waiting, sometimes months, to be released from a mental health facility. “I’m sure they don’t want to leave us in that type of situation; but they leave us there – so it’s hard to believe,” Morgan said.

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