The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was served with a federal class-action lawsuit Thursday for allegedly keeping children in psychiatric hospitals for longer than is medically necessary.
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include acting Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, as well as numerous minors or former minors who claim they were hospitalized longer than they needed to be. They’re represented by Chicago civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy.
The lawsuit accuses DCFS of forcing children to “remain in locked psychiatric wards, causing immense harm,” even though they have been medically cleared for discharge.
“Every year hundreds of children are locked in psychiatric wards and forgotten about,” said Loevy & Loevy attorney Russell Ainsworth at a press conference. “The hope is by filing this lawsuit the practice of warehousing children will end.”
The lawsuit claims DCFS held more than 800 children in psychiatric hospitals for longer than medically necessary between 2015 and 2017, largely because the agency didn’t have anywhere for them to go. The lawsuit also claims that, so far this year, DCFS has spent at least $126,000 a month on inpatient psychiatric care for children who don’t need it.
The lawsuit says this issue has been known to DCFs administrators since the late 1980s, but it was spotlighted by a ProPublica investigation published earlier this year.
Two 19-year-olds who are plaintiffs in the suit spoke at the press conference, giving only their first names.
Burl said he was 10 years old when he was hospitalized for three months — two months longer than what his doctors thought was medically necessary, according to him.
“I didn’t get a chance to see my family. I was behind in school…I stayed there Christmas, I missed my birthday. It was hard,” he said.
“I felt like a prisoner, I felt very depressed,” said Skylar, who said she was hospitalized for six months several years ago when she was a minor. She said doctors wanted her to be hospitalized for half that time.
“The schooling there stucked, I didn’t learn anything,” Skylar said.
DCFS released a statement saying the agency had not seen the lawsuit and, “We have no comment on anything that might be in it.”
The statement added, “Some of the youth were turned away by their own families as a result of their behaviors. In those instances, DCFS is asked to take custody and become responsible for their care … This is a decades-long problem in Illinois that has now fallen to the current leadership of DCFS. We are at the deep end of a challenge within the healthcare system.”
Asked about that DCFS statement at the press conference, Ainsworth was indignant.
“Blame the children is the wrong response,” he said. “DCFS should be apologizing for not addressing this issue, and for violating the constitution. That is abhorrent.”