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DCFS Director Marc Smith held in contempt of court in two unrelated cases

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Judge Patrick T. Murphy of the Juvenile Court held Director Marc Smith in contempt after failing to comply with court orders to place children appropriately.

COOK COUNTY, Ill. (WREX) — A Cook County Judge has held the director of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in contempt of court in two separate cases.

Judge Patrick T. Murphy of the Juvenile Court held Director Marc Smith in contempt after failing to comply with court orders to place children appropriately. 

In both cases, the court ordered fines of $1,000 per day, every day, until Smith complies with the orders.

In both cases the orders are stayed (in one case until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday and in the other until 4:00 p.m. on January 18) for Smith to seek appellate review.

Case One

According to court documents obtained by 13 WREX, the first case involves a now 9-year-old girl. 

Court documents say the girl has been in a psychiatric hospital since April 24, 2021 and has been ready from discharge from that facility since June 1, 2021. 

On Oct. 4, 2021, the judge hearing the matter the ordered Director Smith to place the girl in an appropriate placement by Oct. 18. On Oct. 20, the judge once again ordered Director Smith to find appropriate placement within 14 days. Once again, the girl was not taken out of the hospital.

On Jan. 6, 2022, Director Smith testified he and his agents and attempted to find an appropriate placement for the child, saying most of the residential facilities turned her down, according to court documents. 

During the search, one facility did accept the girl, but had no openings for her at the time. 

The girl has been ready for discharge for 224 days. 

Case Two

Director Smith is being held in contempt of court for a second case-this one involving a 13-year-old boy.

Court documents say the boy, who has mental health issues, was placed in a temporary shelter in Mount Vernon, Illinois on Aug. 14, 2021. The shelter is about 280 miles from his mother in Chicago. 

The shelter's website says it is a temporary placement of no more than 30 days. However, the boy has now been at the temporary shelter for 145 days. 

on Jan. 6, Director Smith and his agents testified they attempted to find an appropriate placement for the child. 

One of the agents who testified was the regional director of DCFS, Jacqueline Dortch. 

Dortch said DCFS contacted 10 separate agencies looking for an appropriate specialized or therapeutic foster home.

Eight foster agencies had declined and two are still open. She agreed that DCFS had recommended family therapy, individual therapy and in-home parent counseling, but that because of the distance between Mount Vernon and Chicago the first and third component could not be accomplished.

She stated that the monthly rate for a specialized foster home is $1,400 and for a therapeutic foster home is $1,700 per month. The monthly cost at the Mount Vernon temporary shelter is $9,715.

Dortch testified the boy does not require residential care, but should be care but should be placed in an appropriate foster home, specialized or therapeutic. She further agreed that the temporary shelter in which the boy is now housed “mirrors” a residential facility.

You can read the full court documents for each case below. 

Larger Issues

Both court documents highlight bigger issues that DCFS are currently facing. 

DCFS provided the court with statistics on Nov. 30. According to the stats provided by the court, 58 children statewide, and 18 in Cook County, were detained in psychiatric facilities beyond their discharge date. According to the same statistics, 159 children statewide and 52 from Cook County were detained in residential facilities past the date on which they were ready to be discharged.

From what the court heard, children cannot get out of psychiatric facilities because children cannot get out of residential facilities and hence there is a bottleneck. The cause for the bottleneck appears to be lack of appropriate placements for older DCFS wards, lack of foster homes and lack of group homes.

DCFS has closed 460 residential beds in Illinois since 2015, according to testimony from Lauren Williams, an associate Deputy Director. The agency planned to replace the residential beds with "therapeutic foster homes," according to court documents. 

However, the agency has opened less than 30 of the therapeutic homes to-date. 

The director is not being fined or held in contempt for that violation, but for his refusal to follow valid court orders that he comply with the statutory and constitutional mandates and provide adequately for the child in each case, according to the judge. 

You can read the court documents for each case below. 

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Andy Carrigan is the Social Media & Digital Content Manager at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team as a photographer in 2016 after graduating from Northern Illinois University.

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