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Illinois DCFS Director Marc Smith held in contempt a seventh time for failure to place a child

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Cook County judge ordered Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith held in contempt of court for a seventh time Thursday for failing to place a child appropriately.

The order was issued by Juvenile Court Judge and former county Public Guardian Patrick Murphy.

Current Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert noted that this was the seventh time Smith has been held in contempt in the past 10 weeks. In this case, the subject of the order is a 16-year-old boy who has spent more than 375 days – almost the whole time he has been in DCFS custody – in a shelter that does not have the resources to support his needs given his intellectual and cognitive disabilities, the Public Guardian's office said.

A court order was issued in March 2021 to direct DCFS to find and place the boy appropriately within 20 days, but that still has not happened a year later, the Public Guardian's office said.

The court ordered fines of $1,000 per day until the boy is appropriately placed, but the fines have been stayed until Thursday of next week.

Two other contempt orders came down against Smith earlier this month, involving two youth in care who have been languishing in psychiatric hospitals long after they were ready to be medically discharged. 

One of those children is just 11 years old.  She has been ready to get out of a psychiatric hospital since last April. 

While she has been locked in the facility, she has not received services such as speech therapy. She also has not been allowed to go outdoors, and she has barely received an education.

For nearly a year now, the girl has received just one hour a day of schooling.

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.

"Holding a state agency director in contempt of court is extraordinarily rare. In the more than 30 years that I've been practicing in Juvenile Court, I cannot recall a single prior instance where a judge held the DCFS director in contempt. And now it's happened six times in eight weeks," Golbert said in a news release. "That's how dysfunctional DCFS has become."

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.

Capacity, or the number of residential beds and foster homes for children in the state's care, is an ongoing and critical concern. It is the main reason behind an issue we have extensively reported – children being kept in psychiatric hospitals longer than medically necessary. In some cases, months longer.

In court, the department has argued the pandemic impacted staffing at residential facilities and a shortage of placements.

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