Four years after the Illinois formally committed to honoring the rights of LGBTQ youth in its care, an audit released this month found little evidence that it lived up to its initial promises.
In 2019, the Illinois Senate ordered the Auditor General’s Office to look into how well the state Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) was abiding by the state’s Foster Care Bill of Rights and its own standards of care regarding the obligation to promote the safety, adjustment and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning youth.
The auditors looked primarily at data from 2017 and 2018 to compile the report. Bottom line: The child welfare agency is falling short on a range of some seemingly basic requirements.
For example, DCFS had no system for ensuring that caseworkers promptly and appropriately inform incoming youth of their rights under the law and agency policy. Nor did the department monitor whether its contracted service providers adopt and follow LGBTQ policies at least as extensive as department standards require, the auditors found. Those contractors are also responsible for reminding youth of their rights, but the department cannot say whether that is happening.
In addition, the department didn’t always train its own workers or its contractors’ employees on sexual orientation, gender identity and the requirements of its relevant policies on a timely basis, the audit states. Nor could the agency even say how many and precisely which of its youth identify as LGBTQ — and therefore couldn’t always take that information into account as workers attempted to find appropriate settings for placement.
In sum, the audit concludes that there was a glaring lack of “reliable and consistent” information available to and from the department during the audit period. The child welfare agency didn’t dispute the findings, and agreed to virtually all of the auditors’ 16 recommendations for coming into compliance.
At the same time, the department said it had recognized the shortcomings on its own and has been working since June to fix the problems, which it said largely carried over from the time of a previous governor’s administration.
Other findings: Some areas of Illinois have no emergency beds for youth in crisis, and in other parts the availability of these beds has declined dramatically. The department also needs to improve the accuracy and completeness of the information it provides each year to the General Assembly so that lawmakers can keep tabs, ensure accountability and make legislative changes as required.
State Sen. Julie Morrison (D) sponsored the Senate resolution calling for the audit, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois spotlighted problems with implementing LGBTQ-friendly policies.
“Too many LGBTQ youth find themselves in the custody of DCFS and where they experience disapproval, discrimination or abuse,” Morrison stated. “LGBTQ youth in our state have the legal right to be treated equally and to safely express their sexual orientation and gender identity. We need to make sure youth are always being placed in an affirming household and have access to culturally competent health care providers who can get them the health care they need.”