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Judge Orders Policy Change At DCFS After Teens Are Shackled

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In a story you saw first on 2, two foster boys with no criminal report were unnecessarily shackled on a recent transport.

As CBS 2's Chris Tye reported, a judge has ordered change within the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

"DCFS is in crisis," said Heidi Dalenberg, director of institutional reform for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

The DCFS, which of course is in charge of keeping kids safe, is taking fire from multiple directions.

"One thing is that they have affirmatively put out there that they're not going to be using shackles or mechanical restraints," said Alpa Patel, Chief Deputy for the Cook County Public Guardian's Office.

The rule change stems from a court hearing on Thursday.

The hearing in turn came just days after CBS 2 first reported on the two children placed in shackles last month – on DCFS orders – as they were transported to a new home.

On Oct. 1, a transport company arrived at the back bay of a South Side shelter to move one 17-year-old boy to Palatine. The company was on orders from the DCFS to treat the move as a "secure transport," and shackle the boy.

Shelter staff had never seen it before, so they called DCFS to see if it was necessary. They said it was, but it was not.

The same thing happened to a second teenager later that same day. And not until CBS 2 called DCFS was any admission of wrongdoing made.

The hearing Thursday provided a progress report on the DCFS Office in McHenry County that handled the AJ Freund case.

In the months since the death of AJ, the McHenry County State's Attorney says the system that failed the Crystal Lake 5-year old has actually gotten worse, the state's attorney says.

In December 2018, a DCFS investigator deemed neglect allegations against A.J.'s mother unfounded, after a doctor could not pinpoint the cause of a mysterious bruise on the boy's hip.

The firings of DCFS investigators Carlos Acosta and Kathleen Gold, and their supervisor Andrew Polovin were recommended by the agency's inspector general in a confidential written report prepared for the head of DCFS, according to sources.

AJ was killed in April, and his parents have been charged with his murder.

Tye asked Dalenberg whether things have gotten better or worse in the Woodstock office that handled the AJ Freund case.

"They've fluctuated," Dalenberg said, "but they're very much worse now."

There were also new details released Thursday of a 10-year-old girl in the midst of a psychological crisis who was forced to spend two nights inside the DCFS' South Side office building.

"DCFS knew that she needed to be hospitalized, and instead, she sat in an office for 30 hours while high-level DCFS management were informed of the situation and didn't have the sense to have that child taken to the hospital," Dalenberg said.

Of note, there were no punishments or sanctions against the DCFS on Thursday. The organization denied CBS 2's request for an interview.

But a spokesperson said over the phone as to shackling, "There are some guidelines, but it's not clear what the policies are, and there are gaps in that policy."

"The underlying concerns about all of this are that there's not enough placements for these kids. There's just not enough resources," Patel said. "So instances that we've seen with the handcuffs, shackles, kids being moved from places, spending nights in office buildings where they shouldn't be."

Staffing is so low that some case workers handling 60 more kids a year than they're supposed to – leaving crucial parts of the job undone.

"Ask the questions, do the interviews, and assess the child's safety in a meaningful way - or we're going to have another tragedy," Dalenberg said.


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