Today, the Department of Children and Family Services demonstrated once again that it either cannot, or will not, meet its core obligations under the B.H. Consent Decree. At its heart, that obligation is to ensure that all Illinois foster children are living in the most family-like setting possible and timely receiving the health care they need. Everyone has known for years that DCFS lacks sufficient healthcare and placement services for youth in its care. The thousands of Illinois foster youth with significant mental and behavioral health needs suffer most acutely from DCFS’ longstanding resource shortages.
For the last two years, DCFS has promised repeatedly to provide District Court Judge Jorge Alonso with a specific, detailed proposal for developing the resources that young people in DCFS care desperately need – from housing to health care to mental health services. This long-promised plan was to be based on a fulsome analysis of data about youths’ needs and existing resources. Once drafted, the substance of the plan was to be assessed by independent court-appointed experts to confirm its feasibility, modified in response to the experts’ recommendations and Plaintiffs’ feedback, and then presented to the B.H. Court. Indeed, in late November of this year lawyers for the Department stood up in court and repeated that they were working toward making such a plan a reality.
The B.H. Plaintiffs have yet to see even a first draft of DCFS’ long-promised comprehensive resource development plan. Nevertheless, today the Department chose to issue three “Calls for Proposals” inviting all willing providers to present plans for building emergency shelter capacity, emergency foster homes, and/or programming for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This is precisely the sort of ill-considered, misdirected, counterproductive, fiscally irresponsible, and panic-driven activity that Plaintiffs have been working to prevent through the B.H. process. Even a cursory review of the Calls shows that DCFS has simply thrown open the doors for proposals without a prior, serious data assessment to identify what resources it needs where.
It is troubling that the Department is actively encouraging providers to develop more shelter beds and emergency foster homes to serve the “1% of youth” DCFS acknowledges it currently struggles to place – those who are stuck in psychiatric hospitals beyond medical necessity, those stranded in emergency rooms due to lack of psychiatric hospital capacity, and those who have lost their placement due to extreme behaviors. Every expert has told the Department that these youth do not belong in shelters, and DCFS knows from its own failed experience that these youth are not accepted by emergency foster homes because they lack the supports address these youths’ severe, immediate needs.
We shared our complete rejection of DCFS’ new “plan” with the Department and the Special Master before these new Calls for Proposals were issued. Developing resources for children’s health and safety should not be treated like some sort of dystopian lottery. Children have waited for years for DCFS to develop and act on a serious plan for getting them necessities. That is not what the Department has delivered.
It is time for DCFS to get serious about his responsibility to the youth in his care.