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Illinois DCFS Director Marc Smith held in contempt of court for ninth time for improperly placing teen

Illinois DCFS Director Marc Smith held in contempt of court for ninth time 01:35

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For the ninth time since early January, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith has been ruled in contempt of court, for failing to properly place a teen in the department's care.

Juvenile Court Judge and former Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy found Smith in contempt of court in a case involving a 15-year-old boy who has been held at a psychiatric facility even after it was determined to no longer be medically necessary as of Jan. 31, 2022.

DCFS also is accused of failing for months to get a neuropsychological exam done for the boy's special needs. 

In court on Thursday, the department outlined numerous places they have attempted to place the teen; saying each facility declined to take the youth because of his behavior, or problems with staffing levels.

The latest contempt of court finding comes nearly one month after Smith was hit with an eighth contempt of court order over an improperly placed teen, in a case involving a 14-year-old girl who was taken into temporary DCFS custody last September. Since then, she had been moved 21 times. She was stuck in a psychiatric hospital and was then moved around to different shelters, hospital emergency rooms, DCFS offices, and emergency foster placements. 

In February, the judge ordered DCFS to place the teen in a residential facility. That order was not carried out, and the teen ran away.

The judge then issued a second order that DCFS was to immediately place the youth in a residential facility as soon as she was found. Again, that court order was not followed. 

In court last month, DCFS listed facilities where they were trying to get her placed, and said some residential homes are not available due to staffing issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The department has filed appeals on several of these court orders, which have included $1,000-a-day fines until the youth is properly placed. It's unclear what has happened with that teen since the March hearing.

Smith has been held in contempt of court for similar circumstances nine times since Jan. 6.

Three contempt orders came down against Smith in March. Two involved youth in care who had been languishing in psychiatric hospitals long after they were ready to be medically discharged. One of those children was just 11 years old, and had been ready to get out of a psychiatric hospital since last April.

The third involved a 16-year-old boy who at the time had spent more than 375 days – almost the whole time he has been in DCFS custody – in a shelter that did not have the resources to support his needs given his intellectual and cognitive disabilities. It's unclear what has happened with the teen since then.

A Cook County Juvenile Court judge also held Smith in contempt in three other recent cases due to DCFS' failure to get those children into appropriate care.

Judge Murphy last month also brought up the issue of the DCFS not having placements for older teens who are ready to get out of residential facilities. At one point recently, there were about 150 teenagers stuck in residential facilities. 

Until they are properly placed, other children can't get in for the care they need.   

Late in January, lawmakers held a virtual hearing on the DCFS, with some even suggesting overhauling the department if Smith can't right the ship.

Meanwhile, we wanted to know – with all the contempt of court orders against Smith, what's the point? How many does he get? Does he ever go to jail?

CBS 2's Irika Sargent spoke to CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller to get some answers.

Sargent: "This is the ninth time that this has come up and he's been held in contempt, yet, is anything really happening? Are there really any results?"

Miller: "Not so far. This is not criminal contempt. It's not doing something that is an embarrassment to the court, or, you know, says a swear word to the judge. That's criminal contempt, where you can be locked up for six months. This is a civil contempt proceeding, where all they're doing is trying to get him to do something. In this case, the judge is saying to the director of DCFS: 'Listen, you are obligated to provide appropriate placements for these kids, and you're not. We're up to number nine right now. It's outrageous. Do your job, sir, and if you don't, there's going to be some consequences.'"

Those consequences could cost taxpayers. Civil contempt orders come with significant fines, which if enforced, would be paid with taxpayer money.

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