Illinois seems to be a hotbed for a lack of accountability and transparency on the part of government agencies. Most recently we have learned that police in Chicago were using a domestic “black site” in the Homan Square area to illegally detain, question, and torture Americans suspected of crimes.
However, before that story broke, Illinois was already in the midst of another controversy. One that has received very little attention outside of local and state media.
State treatment and residential centers for youth in Illinois are rampant with abuse – physical, mental, and sexual. The Chicago Tribune has done a great job exposing the story though their “Harsh Treatment” investigation. The investigation found that hundreds of youth are assaulted and raped by fellow youth at Illinois residential centers. When these rapes and assaults are reported the authorities rarely ever act. In many cases veteran residents introduce new residents into the world of prostitution. Thousands of residents of state homes and centers have ran away and according to the Chicago Tribune, dozens have never been found.
Another issue the Tribune found was that children of special needs are not being placed in treatment centers that target the appropriate care. This means most children are placed in the same facilities regardless of specific needs.
The Tribune’s investigation lead to special legislative session in Chicago, where 22 lawmakers were informed on the failures of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and associated residential centers for troubled youth and state wards. At that session, state child welfare chief Bobbie Gregg called the reports “both appalling and unacceptable,” before announcing she would resign from the agency on January 19. Gregg was the seventh director in just three years. She has since been replaced by George Sheldon, former head of Florida’s Department of Children and Families.
At the same hearing Former DCFS Director Bryan Samuels, presented research from the Chapin Hall research center at the University of Chicago that showed 8 to 11 percent of all youth in residential facilities reported being sexually abused or physically assaulted since 2009. An entire third of the youth attempted to run away or went missing.
According to a report from the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ , 29 children were killed from abuse or neglect between July, 2013, and June, 2014 after their parents were investigated by the DCFS. These deaths are part of the reason critics say the DCFS is not only suffering from a lack of accountability but a lack of action. In many of the cases the DCFS says they did not have enough information to remove the child from the caregivers who may be endangering them.
Knowing what we know about the treatment centers, it is difficult to believe that giving the State permission to take the child would have been an improvement. The children suffering from a lack of proper care from parents are also endangered by state-sanctioned kidnappings and assignment to dangerous facilities.
Lawmakers, child advocacy groups and activists are all scrambling to find a solution to this horrendous problem. Some have suggested fortifying the state facilities with more locks and guards. Others are wary of locking children up like prisoners in some halfwit attempt to save them from themselves. At the hearing in January there were suggestions for updating DCFS’ data systems to more easily spot problems. There were also calls for paying direct-care workers more than minimum wage.
In February, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a complaint against the Illinois DCFS. The ACLU argued that state wards are constitutionally guaranteed a right to adequate state services. They blamed the problems on budget cuts and a revolving door of directors. In response to the complaint, the DCFS agreed to allow experts to come help monitor the resident facilities and placement services. On Tuesday a federal judge approved the agreement which will temporarily bring in monitors from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Both the ACLU and the DCFS will submit a list of experts for a long term solution.
A bill introduced by State Senator Dan Kotowski would create new training for DCFS investigators and employees. If the bill becomes law it would be the first major training change since the organization was established in 1964. So far it has passed the Senate Human Services Committee.
We have to ask ourselves if handing over children from dangerous parents to an unaccountable government is truly the best policy. Perhaps by building stronger communities we can find solutions to help parents who need assistance and, if necessary, remove children from dangerous situations. We may find it possible to create a world where children are loved and respected, and those who need help can find it from the community rather than the State.
Children as a whole are one of the largest at-risk demographics. They are often seen as second-class citizens by many adults, and when it comes to crimes against children, too often their cries go unheard. Please share this story and help expose the crimes against the children of Illinois.