For years, foster children in Illinois have had to remain in psychiatric treatment facilities even after doctors have declared them ready to leave, stranded where they are because the state has no suitable placement for them, according to a news report.
Despite a 2018 lawsuit filed against the state child welfare agency on these children’s behalf, the problem keeps growing because the state has failed to replace hundreds of beds it has closed with the intent of creating better ones.
In the most recent fiscal year alone, according to an analysis by the Cook County Public Guardian’s office, 356 children, nearly a fifth of them not even 11 years old, remained in the hospital beyond what was medically necessary. On average, they stayed there 55 days beyond when doctors said they had completed their treatment. Studies show that the longer children are not living in an appropriate setting and are deprived of a stable home environment that is crucial to healing from their trauma, the more they suffer.
These delays in finding appropriate placements can have terrible consequences for kids, said Heidi Dalenberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, a group that has been working with the guardian’s office to pressure the state to do better for years. “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,” Dalenberg told WGN News for an investigative report based on the Public Guardian’s analysis, which has not been posted on its website.
Starting in 2015, Illinois closed 460 residential beds with the intent of replacing them with therapeutic foster homes. But so far, only about 30 new beds have been licensed, WGN reported. A judge has said officials at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services have acknowledged it was a mistake to close the old beds before there was a solid plan to replace them.
Marc Smith, the director of DCFS, says he’s keenly aware of the deficit. “We’re committed to keep growing residential and therapeutic and foster care facilities and keep driving that forward,” Smith told WGN Investigates.