SPRINGFIELD – Budget cuts to the Department of Children and Family Services proposed by Governor Bruce Rauner in his budget message violate a long-standing federal consent decree and will be challenged. That message will be delivered today to the Senate Appropriations I Committee by Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, which represents all the children in the DCFS system under that consent decree. Specifically, Committee members will be told that cutting all services to youth age 18-21 will be challenged by the ACLU.
In prepared testimony for the Committee, Ms. Connell is prepared to say that “(s)hould the proposed budget cutting continued services to foster children ages 18-21 become effective, the ACLU will return to federal court to block these cuts because they clearly violate the consent decree.”
Ms. Connell also will remind the Committee that in 2009, after the passage of the so-called “doomsday” budget by the legislatures, the ACLU won a federal court order blocking massive cuts to DCFS, cuts that would have made it impossible for the agency to comply with the decree.
“We intend to do the same in this instance,” Connell will say.
The ACLU notes that just more than 2,100 young people between the ages of 18-21 remain under the care of DCFS. They remain for numerous individual reasons, but only do so after an independent judge has made a determination that it is in their best interest to remain in state care. These youth are, therefore, the wards of the state and must be served by DCFS.
Recently, Governor Rauner proposed cutting off all services to wards of this age. These services include specialized foster care, help with housing for college, meal programs for students in college and transportation to and from school.
“These are necessary and appropriate services, the type of support and assistance that many of us enjoyed just after high school and many more of us provide to our own children,” Connell will say.
Finally, the ACLU will note that eliminating these services prematurely often cuts off support for young people at a critical moment, forcing these youth onto public assistance, causing increased homelessness, creating higher burdens in accessing medical and mental health care, and making it more likely that the youth will find their way into the criminal justice system.
The ACLU will observe that since these services often are far more expensive than the cost of serving DCFS’ youth 18-21 years old that the Governor’s proposed cuts are the “classic definition of ‘penny wise and pound foolish. ’”
The Senate Appropriations I Committee hearing begins at 5:30 p.m.
Update: Read the full testimony here.