Request for court order necessitated after State Comptroller reneges on deal
CHICAGO - A federal court judge in Chicago is being asked to order the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to comply with all provisions of a court-monitored consent decree that ensures safety and protects the constitutional rights of children in the state system during the on-going budget impasse. A motion, filed late last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois as attorneys for the children in the DCFS system, says that failing to provide services during this time will do irreparable harm to the children under the care of DCFS, some of the most vulnerable children in our state. The motion is expected to be heard in federal court before U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso on Tuesday morning in Chicago.
The ACLU sought and won a similar order during a budget impasse in the summer of 2009. Last week, the ACLU reached an understanding with officials for the Attorney General's office, which represents DCFS and the Comptroller's office, that the 2009 court order was sufficient to insure continued funding for DCFS operations during the current period in which no budget has been approved. Late in the week, however, the Comptroller's office backed out of part of the agreement, saying that it would not pay State employees who carry out critical functions to protect vulnerable children.
"No one official's politics or misunderstanding of the law can be permitted to allow the State of Illinois to fail the children under their care in the DCFS system," said Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU of Illinois and lead lawyer in the case. "Without people who can investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect and other essential personnel, thousands of children across Illinois will be put at risk. No political victory can be placed ahead of these vulnerable children."
"Comptroller Munger has made this process more difficult by failing to recognize that the State must meet its obligation to these children."
The action today comes as part of a consent decree, reached between the State of Illinois and the ACLU of Illinois, to reform and repair the operations of DCFS. Under the terms of the agreement, which has been supervised by a federal court for more than two decades, the State is required to comply with all provisions of the decree, including maintaining appropriate caseloads for DCFS caseworkers; continuing critical monitoring services by outside experts; and providing individualized clinical and social assessments for each child entering the DCFS system.
A U.S. District Court Judge issued an order similar to the one being requested in 2009, when services were set to be slashed and DCFS workers laid off. Comptroller Munger last week took the extraordinary position that the 2009 order permitted her office to pay outside contractors for their work with children under the care of DCFS, but not the employees of the Department itself. That position, which backed out of a previously reached agreement, would not allow compensation for critical staff -- including the investigators who are at the front line of protecting children from abuse and neglect in Illinois – to remain in place.
"The Comptroller's legally-indefensible position threatens lives of vulnerable children in our State," added the ACLU's Wolf. "The children have rights that cannot be ignored simply because of State gridlock. We are asking the court to step in and protect these children."
The motion was filed before Judge Jorge Alonso, who currently oversees the DCFS consent decree. The ACLU has asked for a hearing on Tuesday, July 7 to resolve the matter.