With thousands of children in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and terrifying documentation of mistreatment and neglect, U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso approved an agreed interim plan presented by the Department and the ACLU of Illinois to help insure the safety and quality of care for wards of the state while longer-term reforms are pursued.
Specifically, the interim plan identifies independent monitors from the University of Illinois Chicago’s Department of Psychiatry, who will oversee a review of the residential treatment centers housing wards of the state. The monitors will evaluate each program’s conditions and services and recommend alternatives for children should the centers be found unacceptable. After many years of a successful independent monitoring program, DCFS abandon this process in favor of internal reviewers -- a process that was an abject failure. As recent media reports have made clear, thousands of children either missing or mistreated as a result of inadequate oversight. The independent monitors will begin their work even as the ACLU meets with the new acting director of DCFS, George Sheldon, to devise other policies to improve operations within the agency.
“We want experts to help shape the long-term strategy of the DCFS,” ACLU of Illinois Associate Legal Director Benjamin Wolf told the court
This effort is complicated by the fact that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner recently outlined significant cuts to DCFS as a part of his budget proposal. In spite of these fiscal challenges, the ACLU of Illinois is insisting on additional reforms that will meet the needs of the children who rely on DCFS services and placements, as well as safeguards to prevent mistreatment from taking place again. What is critical, in the ACLU's view, is that these changes are implemented under court supervision, in order to hold the State accountable.
The parties will return to court on March 26th.
Coverage from the federal court hearing: