The Chicago Tribune is currently running (beginning December 3 and 4, 2014) a series of front-page stories exploring the cruelty and neglect children experience in some of the residential treatment centers in Illinois. Many of the children featured in the stories are placed in these residential treatment centers under a contract with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
The troubling and graphic details in the Tribune stories appear to have come as a surprise to the leadership at DCFS. The situation is not, however, a surprise to the ACLU of Illinois. We repeatedly have warned DCFS about the problems in these private residential treatment centers as part of our decades-long litigation designed to reform DCFS.
These facilities need persistent and independent oversight to make sure they provide safe conditions and adequate services to wards of the state. More fundamentally, as the ACLU long has advocated, Illinois must develop and fund a comprehensive, accessible community-based mental health care system, a system that identifies what a child needs, and then provides those services to the child in a home-based and community environment. The ACLU of Illinois is committed to making this community-based system a reality.
The sad Tribune series also points out the need for consistent, competent leadership for DCFS. Over the past 10 years, the Department has been a revolving door of Directors who have come and gone; some have even undone significant reforms that had been put in place to make life better for children in DCFS care.
The ACLU is calling on Governor-elect Rauner to prioritize the identification and recruitment of consistent, competent leadership for DCFS, leadership that will be a partner in creating the sort of community-based programs that will ensure that no child has to endure the nightmare situations described in the Tribune.