Office of the Cook County Public Guardian

Office of the Cook County Public Guardian Advocates for Cook County's most vulnerable who, due to age or disability, can't fight for themselves

Operating as usual

“Children will suffer, reform efforts will be stalled, there’s no way around that.”Jordan Elder of WICS ABC Newschannel ...
12/24/2021
DCFS seeing staffing shortages at all levels, changing recruitment strategy

“Children will suffer, reform efforts will be stalled, there’s no way around that.”

Jordan Elder of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has a report about DCFS’s dangerous staffing shortages at every level of the organization. At the top level, DCFS is facing an unprecedented number of retirements that will leave a quarter of its 40 top executive positions vacant. In terms of front-line investigators, this year DCFS asked the federal court in the B.H. case for yet another 3-year extension to comply with the caseload standards under a 30-year-old consent decree. And DCFS is also experiencing mid-level staff shortages.

DCFS is struggling to fill all of these positions. This comes at a time when DCFS’s rate of child maltreatment is more than twice the national norm and continues to trend in the wrong direction. This comes at a time when DCFS is experiencing a crisis-level shortage of placements. This comes when, for the first time since the 1990s, DCFS is forcing its children to live in offices. And this comes at a time when DCFS has a severe lack of community-based services for its children.

These problems will only continue to get worse, and DCFS's reform efforts will continue to stagnate, until DCFS hires the staff it needs. You can read or watch Elder’s report here:

Between retirements and recruitment issues, staffing shortages continue to plague the Department of Children and Family Services. But this staffing problem isn’t new. In fact, a 30-year-old court order demanded DCFS hire more case workers. The agency hasn’t hit the ratio required in the....

Kelley Thornton, our Deputy for Human Resources and Administration, recently completed 10 years of service on the Child ...
12/23/2021

Kelley Thornton, our Deputy for Human Resources and Administration, recently completed 10 years of service on the Child Death Review Team. This interdisciplinary team, created by statute, is charged with reviewing the circumstances of child fatalities in order to gain a better understanding of their causes, recommending changes in practice and policy that will prevent future injuries and deaths, and identifying gaps in services to children and families. Congratulations and thanks to Kelley for her 10 years of dedicated service on this important project.

Jordan Elder of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has a disturbing report about DCFS’s continued violations of its ...
12/21/2021
'We are not there': Advocates push for change on 30-year anniversary of DCFS agreement

Jordan Elder of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has a disturbing report about DCFS’s continued violations of its promises to its children under the consent decree in the federal B.H. case. Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the B.H. consent decree.

Despite DCFS’s promises in the decree to have appropriate placements for all of its children, about 200 children slept in offices over the past 2 years because DCFS had nowhere to place them. Another 356 children languished last year in locked psychiatric hospitals for an average of 2 months after they were ready to be discharged. DCFS has a crisis-level shortage of mental health services for its children and their mental health diagnoses go untreated. Over the past years, DCFS lost more than 500 residential and group home beds and more than 100 emergency shelter beds. DCFS has twice the rate of maltreatment in care compared with national norms, and is trending in the wrong direction.

All of this is in violation of the requirements of the consent decree. Remarkably, in March, DCFS asked for and received yet another 3-year extension of time to hire the investigators it needs under the decree.

Thirty is known as the “pearl anniversary.” Instead of a string of pearls, DCFS’s present to its children is a 30-year string of broken promises.

After 30 years of repeated systemic violations, why have enforcement proceedings never been initiated? Why is the decree treated as a mere piece of paper?

These are children; not statistics. The time is now for strong enforcement measures.

You can read or watch Elder’s report here:

It's been thirty years since the Department of Children and Family Services entered an agreement to properly care for children in its care. The department initially had two and a half years to do it, but advocates say they still aren't meeting that goal. The B. H. consent decree stems from a federal...

Yesterday we celebrated the retirement of Jean Agathen after nearly two decades of dedicated service to our clients. Jea...
12/17/2021

Yesterday we celebrated the retirement of Jean Agathen after nearly two decades of dedicated service to our clients. Jean worked as a courtroom attorney in our Juvenile Division and then as an attorney and senior attorney in our Appellate Division.

A superb writer and editor, Jean is a recognized authority on the technicalities of grammar and citation format. Jean is also a leader in the bar and appellate bar including serving as co-chair of the Appellate Lawyers Association's Membership Committee, and on the board of directors and as Program Director of the Chicago Chapter of the American Constitution Society.

Jean relished client contact. Whenever she traveled for vacation, Jean would volunteer to visit our clients who are placed out-of-state.

Congratulations to Jean, and thank you for your years of dedicated service to our child clients!

Last week the Illinois General Assembly convened a joint hearing of the House Mental Health and Addiction Committee and ...
12/13/2021
For kids in crisis in Illinois, there is nowhere to turn for help

Last week the Illinois General Assembly convened a joint hearing of the House Mental Health and Addiction Committee and the Senate Behavioral and Mental Health Committee about the crisis-level shortage of services and placements for kids with behavioral and mental health needs. The committee heard from parents, providers, and advocates. Senior attorney Danielle Gomez from our office provided compelling testimony.

The committee grilled state bureaucrats about what they are doing to finally address this longstanding problem, which is causing pain for so many children and families. Unfortunately, to put it mildly, the bureaucrats’ testimony was not reassuring. It’s clear that there is not a plan to expand services or placement capacity in a timely or meaningful way.

Like so many societal problems, this one disproportionally impacts children and youth in DCFS’s care, as was powerfully demonstrated by Gomez’s testimony. About six years ago DCFS unwisely eliminated more than 500 residential and group home beds, promising to replace them with therapeutic foster care beds. Unfortunately, the therapeutic foster care beds were never created. At the same time, DCFS’s emergency shelter capacity decreased from more than 150 beds to less than 40 in the entire state. As a result, we are now seeing children sleeping in offices, languishing in locked psychiatric hospitals at tremendous taxpayer expense for months after they are ready to be discharged, and shipped off to distant and expensive out-of-state placements. There are also not enough psychiatric hospital beds available for children; again, a problem that disproportionately impacts DCFS’s children who don’t get the treatment that they need.

Sarah Karp and Susie An of WBEZ News have an outstanding, in-depth story about the problem and last week’s hearing. The report discusses several children who need, but can’t get, critical services, and the impact on the children and their families. You can read the report here:

Experts say there are no residential facilities available for students requiring intensive mental health or behavioral support as needs surge.

The Supreme Court of Illinois has appointed Alison Stankus, senior attorney and training coordinator for our Juvenile Di...
12/02/2021

The Supreme Court of Illinois has appointed Alison Stankus, senior attorney and training coordinator for our Juvenile Division, to the Illinois Judicial College Committee on Guardian ad Litem education. Her term will run through June 2024. Megan Sippl, an attorney in our Juvenile Division, recently completed a term on the committee. The committee is chaired by Chief Deputy Public Guardian Alpa Patel.

Congratulations to Stankus and Sippl for this recognition of their expertise by the State's highest court.

Public Guardian Charles Golbert has an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune arguing that some of the billions of dollars that Il...
11/29/2021
Op-ed: Illinois should use COVID-19 relief funds to provide the right care for our most vulnerable children

Public Guardian Charles Golbert has an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune arguing that some of the billions of dollars that Illinois received in COVID-19 relief funds should be invested in our children. A good starting place would be addressing DCFS’s longstanding, crisis-level shortage of placements for children.

Five years ago DCFS lost more than 500 residential and group home beds and more than two-thirds of its shelter beds. As a result, every year hundreds of DCFS’s children languish for months in locked psychiatric hospitals after they are ready to be discharged, are forced to sleep in offices, and are shipped off to expensive out-of-state placements, among other problems.

All of this causes untold suffering for our most vulnerable children. It also wastes millions of scarce tax dollars every year. You can read the op-ed here:

Let's use federal funds to fix the crisis-level placement shortage for children in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

"I feel like I was meant to be at that spot at that moment." Just in time for Thanksgiving, we have a wonderful human in...
11/24/2021
Missing Little Village Senior Reunites With Family After He Was Found In An Andersonville Doorway

"I feel like I was meant to be at that spot at that moment."

Just in time for Thanksgiving, we have a wonderful human interest story to share. Thanks to her quick thinking and concern, Lisa Kosowski, a senior attorney in our Juvenile Division, together with Daniel Salgado, a child interviewer in our Juvenile Division, may have saved the life of an older gentleman.

While walking her dog after work on a cold evening, Lisa noticed an older person in the doorway of an abandoned building. He appeared frail, confused, and in need of help. Lisa asked him if he was ok, and he started speaking to her in Spanish. Lisa doesn’t speak Spanish so she called Daniel, who is bilingual, and then handed her cell phone to the individual.

Daniel was able to ascertain the person’s name. After some internet research on her phone, Lisa discovered that this individual was the number 4 person on the Chicago Police Department’s missing persons list. The missing persons report indicated that he had been missing for 9 days, lives in a neighborhood more than 11 miles away, and was in need of medical attention.

Lisa called authorities, who indicated that it might take some time for them to arrive. Because the man appeared dehydrated, Lisa called her neighbor, who sent her son with water and gatorade. The police arrived, and were able to reunite the gentleman with his family in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Kudos to Lisa and Daniel for their compassion and concern. Chris Tye of CBS Chicago News has a moving story that you can watch below. Wishes from all of us at OPG for a joyous, meaningful Thanksgiving holiday!

"My dog started pulling in that direction. So I looked and I saw an elderly man sitting in the doorway."

Dan Belko, the deputy of our Adult Guardianship Division, presented today on recent legislation impacting older adults a...
11/22/2021

Dan Belko, the deputy of our Adult Guardianship Division, presented today on recent legislation impacting older adults and people with disabilities for The Chicago Bar Association Elder and Disability Law Committee. Elise Robie, an attorney in our Adult Guardianship Division, is co-chair of this CBA committee and helped organize the event. Congratulations to Mr. Belko and Ms. Robie for their outstanding work and leadership in the elder law community.

Dan Belko, the deputy of our Adult Guardianship Division, presented today on recent legislation impacting older adults and people with disabilities for The Chicago Bar Association Elder and Disability Law Committee. Elise Robie, an attorney in our Adult Guardianship Division, is co-chair of this CBA committee and helped organize the event. Congratulations to Mr. Belko and Ms. Robie for their outstanding work and leadership in the elder law community.

Congratulations to Carrie Seleman, who was recently named Editor in Chief of the Decalogue Tablets, the semi-annual jour...
11/18/2021

Congratulations to Carrie Seleman, who was recently named Editor in Chief of the Decalogue Tablets, the semi-annual journal of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers. Seleman has served on Decalogue’s Board of Directors for two years, and is the founding chair of its Women’s Committee. Founded in 1934, the Decalogue Society of Lawyers is the country’s oldest, and one of the country’s largest, Jewish bar associations.

Congratulations to Carrie Seleman, who was recently named Editor in Chief of the Decalogue Tablets, the semi-annual journal of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers. Seleman has served on Decalogue’s Board of Directors for two years, and is the founding chair of its Women’s Committee. Founded in 1934, the Decalogue Society of Lawyers is the country’s oldest, and one of the country’s largest, Jewish bar associations.

Ben Bradley of WGN TV News has an excellent report about the 30th anniversary of the consent decree in the federal B.H. ...
11/17/2021
30 years after consent decree, DCFS still struggles to help kids in crisis

Ben Bradley of WGN TV News has an excellent report about the 30th anniversary of the consent decree in the federal B.H. case against DCFS, and DCFS's failures to live up to the comprehensive reform promises it made to its children in the consent decree. In many areas, DCFS is in worse shape than it's been in years and even decades, with devastating consequences for the children in its care. For example, about 5 years ago DCFS lost more than 500 group home and residential beds, which it has yet to replace. Therefore, children have to live in offices, "Welcome Centers," and psychiatric hospitals for inordinate periods because DCFS has nowhere to place them. This is all in violation of DCFS's promises in the consent decree.

Bradley's report includes pictures of the offices and "Welcome Centers" DCFS has had to resort to as placements. It also includes portions of a moving interview with a youth in care who had to remain locked up in a psychiatric hospital for months after she was ready to be discharged. You can watch the report here:

CHICAGO — Thirty years after the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was placed under a federal consent decree to ensure it was living up to its mission, some child welfare experts …

Jordan Elder of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has an excellent new installment in her series about DCFS’s child...
11/16/2021
Lawmakers planning more action as kids continue to sleep in DCFS offices, welcome centers

Jordan Elder of WICS ABC Newschannel 20 in Springfield has an excellent new installment in her series about DCFS’s children who have to sleep on the floor in offices because DCFS has nowhere to place them. This happened to nearly 200 children over the past year. Some of the children have to sleep in offices for weeks at a time.

DCFS has tried to rebrand some of these offices as “Welcome Centers,” but the centers are anything but welcoming. They are often little more than a thin air mattress on the hard cold floor of a small windowless office, as seen in photographs in Elder’s report.

The problem became so bad that, in September, the Illinois House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee conducted legislative hearings to address the problem. Unfortunately, DCFS was unable to answer basic questions posed by lawmakers and, at times, provided testimony that was demonstrably inaccurate.

DCFS promised to provide the committee with answers and corrected information but, to date, has failed to do so. Lawmakers are now calling for additional hearings.

This and many of DCFS’s problems that harm children are the result of DCFS’s placement shortage crisis. DCFS lost more than 500 residential and group home beds since 2015. In addition, during this same period, DCFS’s shelter beds decreased from 150 to just 37 for the entire state.

All of this is in violation of DCFS’s promises under the 30-year-old consent decree in the federal B.H. case. At some point, there must be consequences for DCFS’s continued violations of the children’s civil rights, state and federal law, and the consent decree. Contempt findings and sanctions are more than appropriate at this point; in fact, they are long overdue.

You can read or watch Jordan’s report here:

In the last year, almost 200 foster children have spent the night in an office or a transitional center because the Department of Children and Family services couldn’t find a place to put them. Lawmakers are now calling for additional hearings after the department failed to provide updated dat...

Next month will mark the 30th anniversary of the federal consent decree governing DCFS as part of the B.H. case. The B.H...
11/12/2021
B.H. v. Smith Pearl Anniversary of Consent Decree and Upcoming Status Hearing Filing, 11-12-21

Next month will mark the 30th anniversary of the federal consent decree governing DCFS as part of the B.H. case. The B.H. consent decree was entered on December 20, 1991. The decree promised broad, comprehensive reforms to benefit DCFS’s children and covered everything from placements to health care and services to caseloads.

The 30th anniversary is known as the pearl anniversary. Unfortunately, instead of a string of pearls, DCFS’s gift to its children is a 30-year string of broken promises. Thirty years after entry of the decree, DCFS has failed to live up to most all of its promises.

On this occasion of the 30th anniversary of the consent decree and in anticipation of a status hearing next week in the B.H. case, today we filed papers summarizing some of DCFS’s more egregious violations of the decree and some of the most pressing problems confronting DCFS. We also offer recommendations to prod DCFS toward compliance, and ask the Court for enforcement measures. You can read our filing here:

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69 West Washington St, Suite 700
Chicago, IL
60602

Telephone

(312) 603-0800

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