CHICAGO (CBS) -- For the 12th time since January, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith has been held in contempt of court.
Judge Patrick Murphy issued the contempt order following a motion from the Cook County Public Guardian's office. This latest case involves a 15-year-old girl who has been stuck in a psychiatric hospital even though she was cleared to be released January 14, 2022.
DCFS failed to follow a court order to find the teen an appropriate placement by March 5, 2022. On May 12, 2022, DCFS workers told the court a placement had been found and she would be moved there from the hospital by the middle of June.
In court on Thursday, DCFS said she would be moved by July 25th. It has been 170 days since the teen was ready to be released from the hospital.
First and Second Contempt Order
Judge Patrick Murphy issued the first two contempt of court orders on January 6, 2022, holding the director and department accountable for violating the rights of two children left languishing in facilities for months. One child was nine years old and stuck in a psychiatric unit, after she was ready for release, 221 days. The other order involved a 13-year-old boy moved downstate to a temporary shelter and kept there for 145 days.
At the time, Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said he'd never seen this happen.
"A judge in juvenile court in two cases - two unrelated cases - held the DCFS director Marc Smith in contempt of court for violating multiple court orders to place two children," said Golbert.
Third Contempt of Court Order
A 17-year-old had been locked in a psychiatric hospital more than four months after being ready to be released. A judge said if the youth was not properly placed, DCFS would face $1000 per day fines, as these stays beyond medical necessity harm youth. There also is a hefty cost to taxpayers. In court, it was said wrongly keeping this youth in a psychiatric facility is costing taxpayers $1,000 a day. That's $30,000 a month. At the time, he'd been locked up for more than four months.
Also at the time, DCFS said in court the two earlier youth whose cases had let to contempt orders had been placed. So there were no fines for those cases. One youth was locked up for months in a psychiatric hospital, the other for months in a temporary shelter. Days after the contempt order, before the fines kicked in, DCFS found placements for those youth.
Fourth Contempt of Court Order
The fourth contempt of court order involved the department repeatedly moving a teenager – bouncing her between different foster homes, psychiatric hospitals and shelters. In just four months, DCFS moved her 24 times.
After being hit with the three other past contempt orders, DCFS quickly found the right placements for those youth who had been languishing in psychiatric hospitals.
Fifth and Sixth Contempt of Court Orders
The judge's order involves two youth in care who had languished in psychiatric hospitals long after they were ready to be medically discharged.
One 11-year-old child was kept in a psychiatric hospital for a year longer than she needed to be, which left her without services like speech therapy. For the year, she was not allowed to go outdoors and barely received an education. The little girl was only getting one hour a day of schooling for the entire year.
In court, the department argued the pandemic impacted staffing at residential facilities and a shortage of placements.
In cases of youth staying in the hospital beyond medical necessity, taxpayers pick up the cost. In court, it was said taxpayers have to pay the hospital bill - $600 a day for the first month which increased then to $1,000 a day. This child being left hospitalized has cost taxpayers about $348,000.
Seventh Contempt of Court Order
"We can't continue to torture kids," said a juvenile court judge as he held DCFS Director Marc Smith in contempt of court for the seventh time since January.
A 16-year-old was stuck in a DCFS shelter for nearly a year. DCFS took custody of the developmentally delayed boy in January 2021, following neglect allegations. He was supposed to be placed in a residential facility to get help for the trauma he suffered.
Last March, a judge ordered DCFS to get the teen into a residential facility within three weeks. But it had been 331 days, nearly a year, and the teen was still sitting in the shelter. DCFS has failed to follow that court order and that's why Director Marc Smith was held in contempt of court with potential fines of $1000 a day.
DCFS also was accused of saying they are trying to place the teen into facilities they already knew wouldn't take him because of his developmental delays.
Eighth Contempt of Court Order
In March,. In this case, a 14-year-old girl was taken into temporary DCFS custody last September. She was then 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.
"You're ignoring all of the progress that's been made at DCFS, and so is the decision to hold the department in contempt," Gov. JB Pritzker replied when questioned about the contempt orders against Smith. "The head of Department of Children and family Services, and I, and the judge are frustrated with the challenges that we face for our most vulnerable children."
Ninth Contempt of Court Order
The ninth contempt order involves a 15-year-old who had been stuck in a psychiatric facility beyond medical necessity since January 31, 2022.
DCFS also was accused of failing for months to get a neuro psychological exam done for his special needs. In court, the department outlined numerous places they attempted to place the teen. Saying each facility declined to take the youth because of his behavior or problems with staffing levels.
Tenth Contempt of Court Order
The tenth contempt of court order involved a young girl who entered DCFS care more than a year ago. She spent most of her time in bad placements instead of in a residential treatment center getting the care she needs. During court, it was said the little girl suffered sexual abuse when she was as young as eight years old and the system failed to treat her underlying issues related to her trauma. Since entering DCFS, she's spent only about 45 days in a foster placement. The rest of the time, she has been in what's characterized as shelters and also psychiatric hospitals. Twice she's been psychiatrically hospitalized and then left in those facilities long after she was ready to be released. The most recent, ongoing, hospitalization led to the 10th contempt of court order. Also in court, it was said the child was having significant struggles related to being left there longer after she was ready to be released.
Eleventh Contempt of Court Order
An 11 year old abused girl, considered a risk to herself and others, spent two months in what's considered a shelter and had been waiting months longer for a secure residential treatment center placement. DCFS' failure to properly place her, led to Judge Murphy issuing an 11th contempt of court order against Smith.
This child had numerous placements, and was physically abused while in DCFS care. She was called "a ticking time bomb".
Months earlier, DCFS placed the child in a foster home. Judge Murphy warned against it, saying something bad was going to happen. It did. The child repeatedly stabbed the foster parent whose injuries were treated with stitches.
DCFS says several secure residential treatment centers refuse to accept this fifth grader because of the violent act. And said it cannot force residential programs to take in youth. Judge Murphy pointed out DCFS is supposed to be set up to care for difficult children, yet it then argues it can't get a child placed because he or she is difficult.
DCFS spokesman Bill McCaffrey issued a statement at the time, saying the agency has, in fact, placed the child appropriately:
"This youth is no longer in a psychiatric hospital and DCFS has, in fact, placed this youth in a clinically appropriate setting where she is receiving supportive services and is attending school every day. DCFS is in constant contact with its network of providers and foster parents in an ongoing effort to place children in clinically appropriate settings. Because it is doing everything possible to place these children, DCFS has taken and continues to take the legal position that these contempt orders are not appropriate and has appealed to a higher court to overturn these orders as expediently as possible."
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