Lawsuit highlights how DCFS placed kids in juvenile detention who had done nothing wrong

CHICAGO (CBS) — Children from abused and neglected households are taken in by the state’s child welfare department with a promise of being kept safe.

A lawsuit filed Thursday challenges how safe the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is really keeping some of the state’s most vulnerable kids.

As CBS 2’s Chris Tye reported Thursday, the lawsuit highlights one girl’s story of how the system left her locked up. The same happened to dozens of other kids, who were placed behind bars despite never having done anything wrong.

Why were they there? The reason, the suit said, was that the state was out of placement beds.

And now, victims are out of patience.

"They don’t care about me," said Janiah Cane, 18. "They don’t want to help me out of this horrible place."

The first horrible place Caine ended up was Cook County Juvenile Court.

A victim of child abuse, she was asked to speak truth about her abuser in exchange for protection from DCFS.

"When I was told, oh, if you tell me, ‘I’m going to keep you safe,’ I would expect you to keep me safe," Caine said, "and in that place, I didn’t feel safe."

Caine then ended up in another horrible place – behind bars at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Before it was over, she would spend 166 nights there.

The reason was because the Department of Children and Family Services was out of beds.

"I don’t know," Caine said. "It’s a lot of emotions and feelings that you feel – because nobody wants to be in a horrible place like that where you’re fighting girls."

This lawsuit filed Thursday tells the story of Caine and eight other kids – who spent anywhere from 45 days to six months wrongfully incarcerated.

Michael spent 45 days, David 86 days, Jordan 150 days, James 240 days, Kate more than three months, John five and a half months, Elliot more than six months, and Thomas more than seven months.

As of Thursday evening, seven kids were still locked up when they should not have been. Between them, they’ve logged over 239 days under lock and key for doing nothing wrong.

"If DCFS continues to have these policies that hurt children, then they will pay – and they will pay until they stop doing it and it never happens again to another child," said attorney Russell Ainsworth.

Ainsworth said a jury will end up deciding what the dollar figure should be – but the policy of locking kids up costs hundreds of thousands more than properly staffing placement facilities.

"As we speak, there are actually empty beds in placements – because the placements aren’t being paid enough money to be fully staffed," said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert.

Caine walked out from behind those bars – and now hopes the lawsuit changes policies and improves the lives of future kids dealt life’s hardest hand.

"Everybody in there should be free," Caine said. "It can be about their life – get a job, do something with their life instead of just sitting in jail."

These are kids who judges say should be released back to their caregivers.

In Caine’s case, a caseworker was so hard to get ahold of that she missed any opportunity to attend her grandmother’s funeral two years ago.

We reached out to DCFS for a comment on the lawsuit. They issued this statement:

"The Department of Children and Family Services works as quickly as possible to place youth in appropriate and safe settings. Of course, we can only place youth where we have availability that meets their needs, which is why the department is also working to expand the capacity that was hollowed out under previous administrations. Thanks to this work, in recent years we have made progress in reducing the number of youth who remain in the justice system past the date they are allowed to be released and we are deeply committed to continued progress. We cannot comment further due to pending litigation."

Region: Chicago,Local,City: Chicago

via Syndicated Local – CBS Chicago

January 19, 2023 at 05:20PM

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