The images of kids curled-up on couches or simply sleeping on the floors of state offices were heartbreaking enough state lawmakers called hearings and Gov. JB Pritzker promised to fix the problem. 

But three-and-a-half years after WGN Investigates first exposed the issue, a new court filing says the problem has gotten worse.

Cook County public guardian Charles Golbert told a federal judge that kids spent the night in office space 516 times last year, four times as many in 2020. The average length of stay for office placements last year was three nights, according to the public guardian.

It’s happening to Illinois’ most vulnerable kids in a time of crisis. Some are removed from homes due to violence in their home or other concerns about their health or safety.

“This continues to happen to hundreds of children every year and, of course, is in violation of multiple provisions or the consent decree in this case,” Golbert wrote to the judge who monitors DCFS.


“They’re babysitting,” former DCFS investigator Daphne Threlkeld told WGN Investigates in 2019

She said it takes time for her colleagues to fill-out legal documents and other paperwork. 

“The real time taken is locating a placement for that child especially if that child is an adolescent with a troubled past,” Threlkeld said. 


State lawmakers convened a hearing about kids sleeping in office space in 2021.

“The whole reason we’re having this hearing is because of what you exposed,” State. Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Northlake) said of the WGN Investigates reporting in 2021

The Pritzker administration previously blamed former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration for hollowing-out the number of emergency shelter beds in Illinois and cuts to DCFS’ budget. In 2019, the state had access to 43 emergency shelter beds down from 159 five years earlier. 

DCFS Director Marc Smith attempted to quiet concerns by creating space the agency described as “welcome centers” for kids. 

“A welcome center is not an office,” Smith said at the 2021 hearing. “A welcome center is an environment that was provided to give children a place to care for them, to make sure they have a bed, a place to eat and shower.”

The public guardian’s latest filing says there were 139 stays at “welcome centers” last year which aren’t counted as stays in offices.

The public guardian also said DCFS frequently fails to provide kids in its care with basic medical care and has a severe shortage of staff to follow-up on cases.

“I renew my request for strong enforcement measures so that DCFS finally starts to approach compliance with its promises to children under the 31-year-old consent decree in this case,” Golbert wrote to the federal judge monitoring the agency.


DCFS spokesperson Heather Tarczan responded with the following statement:

Every year DCFS brings thousands of children into care and we make every effort to place these children in safe and healthy settings as quickly as possible. We have made tremendous strides in adding capital investments to a previously gutted system which will add 121 new beds, increased our contracted foster care capacity, added additional shelters and decreased our welcome centers from five to one. We continue to make improvements every day which directly benefit our children and families.